Everything that is read in today's liturgy contains, in some ways, a warning and a promise. We certainly know that all of Lent has been a preparation for the momentous events of Holy Week and Easter. But when the date of Easter--and the church calendar--allow for a fifth Sunday in Lent, as they do this year, we find that full use is made of the day. The suspense of the approach to the events of Holy Week and Easter is building dramatically. We are given, to use an old fashioned term, "fair warning." There is a real sense that something irrevocable, inevitable, and almost unbelievably important is coming our way, something intended from the beginning of time. And our lives depend on us being ready for the event!
Remember the reading from Isaiah? There is a warning to those who would oppose or stand in the way of the events that are destined to happen: "they are extinguished, quenched like a wick." But the vast promise of these days knows no bounds: "I am about to do a new thingâ¦I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desertâ¦."
In the memorable Psalm for today (126), we are reminded that "Those who sowed with tears/will reap with joy." The people of God are leaving adversity behind and are moving toward the joy of harvest, of understanding, of God's new and promised reality.
In the passage from the Letter to the Philippians, the sense of urgency, of immanence grows stronger. In this passage, the voice of faith grows louder: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." There it is on the table. The events that we are experiencing, that we are learning about in these last days are matters, quite literally, of life and death.
In today's Gospel, Luke's telling of the Parable of the Vineyard, all of the starkness of the warning, and the grandeur of the promise are here as we prepare for Holy Week. The workers in the vineyard have been given every opportunity to do what is expected of them. But they have failed miserably. They have thrown out the owner's emissaries, they have even murdered the owner's son when he was sent into the vineyard to put matters to rights. The price: eviction--even death. The warning? You have failed to see the gift I have given you; failed to understand its immeasurable worth. But remember--what is done, is done. "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
On the surface, this is a warning to the scribes and chief priests who had refused to see God's great gift that was being offered and had either ignored it or rejected it outright. But the Parable is also a warning to all of humankind that the magnitude of the gift that is coming is so great that it cannot be stopped, it cannot be denied. It is like a huge wave bearing down on us all. If we join its momentum, if we ride with it, we will reap the harvest. If we try to throw our weight against it, resist it, we will be crushed beneath .
If you think about this last Sunday is Lent, called Passion Sunday, and next Sunday, called Palm Sunday or Sunday of the Passion, are about journeys that have gone beyond the point of no return. You have had these days of preparation to get ready. Now the great events are upon you--whether you are ready of not!
But for all of this high drama of faith as Holy Week and Easter approach, it would probably be good to remember the simplest ways that this time of year has of speaking to us. When I was a small boy I went to a church school where we were each given, on Palm Sunday, a potted spring plant, in full bloom, as a reminder of what was to come. I will never forget the odor of the potted hyacinth I was given. It became for me, in some ways, a reminder of the Easter message that I could grasp.
A young 19th century British poet, Digby Dolben, wrote this poem about simple acceptance of faith, that could well be a prayer for this special Sunday that is perched so irrevocably on the edge, on the brink of the full meaning of our faith.
I ASKED FOR PEACE
I asked for Peace--
My sins arose,
And bound me close,
I could not find release.
I asked for Truth--
My doubts came in,
And with their din
They wearied all my youth.
I asked for Love--
My lovers failed,
And griefs assailed
Around, beneath, above.
I asked for Thee--
And Thou didst come
To take me home
Within thy heart to be.