This coming Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
As the Industrial Revolution in England in the late 18th century there was a massive exodus of young people from rural towns and villages to industrial centers. This was designated as “Mothering Sunday,” a full day off from labor so the young could go home to honor their mother’s.
It was not an accident. The Anglican church kept much of the liturgical traditions of their Roman roots, adopting this Sunday as a Sunday for Rejoicing, a Sunday where rose (pink) was the liturgical color for the day.
The principal of taking a step back from penitence and reflection to celebrate has ancient roots. It is a spiritual reminder that joy can break through wherever we are, regardless of how difficult times may be.
The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is the familiar story from Luke of the Prodigal Father.
A father has two sons, one is a wastrel and the other is responsible and obedient. The younger son asks for his full inheritance so he can take off and enjoy the world and all the vices it has to offer.
In spite of the significant financial hardship this request imposes, the father gives the son his inheritance and off he goes. And, predictably, the son wastes his inheritance and eventually is reduced to poverty and filth.
With no expectation of being forgiven he goes back home.
From faraway, the father recognizes his returning son and runs to great him. His joy is boundless as he embraces his son in all his filth and frailty.
He throws a banquet and provides new clothes for his son who has, literally, returned from the dead. The elder son who has done everything “right” his whole life is furious and angry.
And the father simply loves them both.
It is a radical image of love. It is jarring now, even as it was jarring 2,000 years ago when Jesus narrated the parable to his followers.
This is why we rejoice this Sunday. This radical all-embracing love of God, the ultimate “prodigal father,” is unlike any human expressions of love.
This parable makes all of us uncomfortable. We are the younger son in need of such love when we have gone astray. We are the older son furious that such love goes to ‘anyone’ when we are the ones doing everything by the book. And divine love embraces both without reserve.
The father doesn’t command the younger son to behave and stay home. The father doesn’t command the elder son to join in celebrating his brother’s miraculous return from the dead.
Although this is often presented as a narrative of how we see and experience God, this is equally and maybe more importantly, the core of our spiritual story – this is how God sees us.
And in God’s eyes we are beloved – clean, filthy, good, not so good – we are beloved.
“For my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Rejoice. Some divine truths are truly beyond us, but still all around us.
Rev. Elaine Silverstrim is a retired Episcopal Priest.