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Rejoice! Are you coming to the party?

posted Mar 14, 2013, 12:35 PM by Uumc Topeka

The Rev. January Kiefer  SUBMITTED

The Rev. January Kiefer

The season of Lent is a time of reflection, repentance and reconciliation.

Many of us think of it as a somber — even a sorrowful — time. But the fourth Sunday in Lent, Lataere Sunday, takes its name from the Latin for “rejoice,” and like the third Sunday of Advent, turns to themes of joy and celebration. The scriptural readings for this day* include Luke 15:11-32, the parable commonly known as The Prodigal Son. “Prodigal” means reckless, extravagant, lavish, even foolish expenditure.

“There were two brothers ...” Jesus begins this story by talking about the younger of two sons who asks his father for his inheritance, receives it and then, going to “a far country,” squanders everything in “riotous living.” At last, destitute, disgraced and starving, he “comes to himself” and decides to return to his father. His plan is not to ask for reconciliation, which he believes he does not deserve, but to beg for simple survival as a hired hand in his father’s household. His father however, who is surely the real “prodigal” in this story, sees his son coming while he is still a long way off, and, filled with compassion, runs to embrace him, kiss him and call for a robe, ring and sandals to be brought for him — all signs of forgiveness and restoration. The father then orders a celebration to be held, because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; was lost and is found.”

Many of us Christians stop here in our meditation on this story. We are grateful to see ourselves in the younger son, the one who, no matter how stupid, bullheaded and self-destructive, is welcomed back by the extravagant love of God.

But there were two brothers.

The eldest brother, a hard-working man who has been at home all along, hears about the celebration and is incensed. Filled with resentment, he refuses to come to the party. His father comes out to plead with him but is met with a volley of complaints.

“I’ve been working like a slave for you,” this son says, but what have you ever done for me?

The father is mystified. “All that I have is yours,” he says, “but we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Jesus ends his story there. It is a story that fills us with questions. Did either of the brothers really recognize that their father’s love was available to each of them all along? And what about us? How far away are we from our reconciliation to God — from our ability to receive and respond fully and freely to God’s love? How far away are we from reconciliation to one another — from our ability to recognize and celebrate our kinship with one another? Have we gone to “a far country,” or are we standing stubbornly just outside the door, filled with self-righteous rage and unyielding hearts, refusing to cross the threshold because ...? Ah, that the extravagant, foolish, lavish, reckless, prodigal love of God might flow from our own hearts. Ah, that we might realize that God throws a party for all of us every day! When are we going to come to the party?

*The prescribed readings for the fourth Sunday in Lent, from the Revised Common Lectionary, used in many Protestant churches: Joshua 5:9-2; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; and Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.