Saturday in the Third Week of Lent, Bishop’s Day with Wardens, Vestries, and Treasurers, St. Peter’s Church, Columbia, March 9, 2024

“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (Hos 6:2).

Here we are, mid-stream in Lent: deep enough into it to have found our footing and hit our stride, but not close enough to see the end. Time enough still, this season, to reengage in the practices of a holy Lent, according to the Ash Wednesday liturgy: “self-examination and repentance… prayer, fasting, and self-denial… reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” Time enough for us to take the stance of the tax collector in our Gospel reading, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13). Time enough for us to realize that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and that all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Though we are still midstream, our first reading this morning reminds us that Lent is not a standalone season: it is part of a greater complex that includes Easter. Put another way, Lent is preparation for Easter. Turning out for ashes on Ash Wednesday, especially “ashes to go,” and not turning up for Easter, makes absolutely no sense. The fast is for the sake of the feast. The rigor of Lent is followed by Easter joy.

The prophet Hosea points toward the basic pattern: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up” (Hos. 6:1). For the prophet, God’s judgment is married to mercy; the one who wounds also binds up. Hosea discerns a pattern in God’s dealing with his People, time and time again throughout history: chastisement followed by blessing. The prophet even sees this pattern in the natural world, in the way in which night is followed by day, and winter followed by spring. “His appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hos. 6:3).

This pattern of judgment and mercy, illustrated by nature and found in God’s dealings with the People, becomes concrete and particular in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up(Hos 6:2), as the prophet says. The saying reflects the hope for national revival, for a recovery of the People’s fortunes that would follow shortly, as surely as day follows night. According to Hosea, the time of tribulation will pass and be followed by a time of revival and raising up. The saying foreshadows the light of Easter day, the dawning of a new hope and a new age as Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

As Christians, we’re involved in death and resurrection work, in the basic pattern of Lent and Easter. God manifests himself in judgment and mercy, in desolation and in joy. This is the territory we inhabit, the page on which parish and diocesan life is written and Christianity is lived out. There will be times of wounding and times of healing in each of our lives. In the midst of all of it, however, God will be faithful. His steadfast love endures forever.

As leaders in the Church, the central question before us is always: what is God doing in the world, and how do we get with the program? Easier said than done, in my experience. God’s pattern is always death and resurrection. Getting with the program involves listening carefully, to God and to each other (often the way in which God speaks to us). It involves faithful reflection and plenty of prayer. But this is how God moves us forward, from the place we are to the place we need to be.

I mentioned these questions of discernment of what God is doing in the world are not easy ones. We all know how demanding the issues that are placed before us can be. When it comes to the parish or diocesan budget, what is to be funded? Budgets are road maps to our priorities and a guide to our life together. As a Church, how do we make decisions on policy, and create processes that will get us there? How best to be good stewards of the interests of the community? These are the issues that leaders, like all of you gathered here today, grapple with.

Hosea exhorts his people, and inspires us, with these words, “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord” (Hos. 6:3). This knowledge of God, of what God is up to, as he says, is worth more than any sacrifice, any burnt offering that we can bring. God himself has provided the sacrifice, in Jesus Christ our Lord. We see God at work, and the pattern is death and resurrection. God was at work on Good Friday, and on Easter Day, and is at work with us.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee