Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)
The Word This Week
There were two remarkable moments in the story of the Old Testament where God saved his people; one was in the escape from Egypt – we’ll keep that for the Easter Vigil. The other was the end of their second exile, this time in Babylon, which we hear of today. Of course there was an even greater moment when God saved his people: the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – and we hear Jesus tell Nicodemus about that today. So today’s theme is “salvation”: but to understand “being saved”, we must ask “What from?” Saved from slavery, from exile, from human enemies – these are all clear. But the last and greatest salvation brought by Jesus is harder to understand: saved from sin and death. These threaten us as much as any other enemy, and our salvation in Jesus is as real as any other.
Notes for Readers
First Reading: 2 Chronicles 26:14-16.19-23
This is a short summary of a lot of history! There are three “moments” in the reading: the description of the infidelity of the people; the attack of Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation to Babylon; the decree of Cyrus allowing the people to go home. In preparing this reading you must consider how your tone will differ for each section – certainly how will you move from the gloom of exile to the joy of return in the last two sections. In the first section, the reading emphasises that God keeps trying with his people – take this as your emphasis too. There could almost be a sense of sadness when “the wrath of the Lord rose so high…” – God did not want to go so far. The middle section is the disaster: let your tone be slow and flat for this. Don’t worry about the king’s name – it’s pronounced as written: Ne-byu-kad-NEZ-zar. Leave a longish pause after the word “desolation” at the end of this paragraph, before perking up for the happy ending – the story of salvation from exile. In the final paragraph, build up to the joyful “Let him go up!” This is indeed a happy ending for the people – think about what it means to be exiled from your own country and suddenly to be allowed to return: enter into the story, so that your congregation can be part of it too. The name of the king of Persia is pronounced Si-rus.
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10
Since this weekend we are reflecting on Salvation, we have this short passage from Saint Paul to guide us. Here we see that our salvation in from the eternal enemies – sin and death. Paul emphasises that this ALL comes from God, and is in no way the fruit of our own efforts – it is not even simply the result of faith. It is a gift from God. To emphasise this passage correctly, head for the line “…it is by grace that YOU have been saved through faith.” and address it directly to the people sat in front of you. Everything either side of this line springs from it. We begin with a reminder of what Jesus did – this will lead to the Gospel reading today, and also to our celebration of Easter in three weeks. The point of this reading is to stress God’s “goodness towards us in Christ Jesus.” – emphasise the word “infinitely”. Paul stacks up the point in the second half of the reading, with the repetition of “it is by… not by…” This builds up to a wonderful phrase, “you are God’s work of art”, which you should allow people a moment to think about!