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The Fourth Sunday of Lent-2013

The Fourth Sunday in Lent.
The Collect.
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

{The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.}

Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 39.21-29
Psalter: Psalm 142, 143 | 119.105-144
Epistle Reading: Galatians 4.21-31
Gospel Reading: St. John 6.1-14

Barbee and Zahl: “…Another title for this mid-Lent Sunday is “mothering Sunday,” a reference to the Epistle (“But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all,” Galatians 4:26) and to the custom of visiting the mother church of the diocese on this day. ( . . . ) This is surely one of the least “modern” collects to be found among those included by Cranmer in the 1549 Book. It is one of the least modern prayers, in fact, that we could possibly pray, anywhere or anytime. It posits an untenable situation: “that we . . . do worthily deserve to be punished.” It posits the wrath of God. The situation is both unbearable and at the same time strangely liberating. It is unbearable because “If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it?” (Psalm 130:3). This is a scalpel to the “normal” human posture of self-deception, self-promotion, and self-involvement. ( . . . ) There is something freeing about an accurate diagnosis. Terminal patients will sometimes say that they can live with the truth. What they cannot live with is uncertainty and equivocation. Can you connect with the insight here, that for our sins we deserve to be punished? Moreover, that the grace, or unmerited love of God, can so provide forgiveness that the “discomfort” of being pinned down like a butterfly can be relieved? This is the good news of guilt brought to light and guilt forgiven: in other words, news of lasting comfort” (40-1).

Personal reflection (MWP): The other name for this 4th Sunday in Lent is “Refreshment Sunday” based on the Gospel reading. When looking over the Collect, the refreshment portion is clearly hinted at in the statement, “by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved.” But this is not that refreshing or satisfying, unless one owns the reality of the first portion of the Collect (see Barbee and Zahl above). Mercy doesn't fell much like mercy unless it is desperately needed. Grace does not shock and surprise and rouse us much, unless we come to recognize that we were,
“…dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2.1-3). 
And it’s here, at the deepest, at the darkest, and the damnedest, that grace refreshes and resurrects us; “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” (Ephesians 2.4-5).

It’s only here, when we recognize we are the people of the first part of the Collect, that the Gospel refreshingly sounds like the good news it really is:
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.  He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7.18-19). 
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