I suspect that most of us would not say we are “at home” with the Book of Chronicles, the source of our first reading today. The Chronicles were written at the end of the Babylonian Exile. It is a look back at the history of the monarchy of Judah, its kings and the people. It is not a history as we understand it – it is really an overarching assessment of the king and the people against one standard, and one standard only: how did we do as the people of the Covenant with God; a Covenant given to us on Sinai through the prophet Moses? The short answer: not good. The Book of Chronicles is a history of sin, a history of ignoring the covenant, a history of taking on the name of the Lord in vain.
Today we are hearing the end of the Chronicles, a final assessment: “In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD‘s temple.” How could God let this happen to his people, you ask? And yet, as we say, “early and often” the Lord send prophets and messengers, forever calling the people of Judah back to covenant, to come home to God. Still, the people sinned. They sought other homes, placed their trust in human kings, spent their love for earthly security, and earned the wages of those choices, a home in the darkness of exile in Babylon. Even in exile, the Lord loved them and called them again to come home, be at home, and be his people – even if He had to use a foreign king to accomplish His holy plan: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”
Go home and may your God be with you. God has always called the people of Judah to come home, despite their sins, their choices – such is the nature of covenant, such is our God.
How are we to understand such a God as a fountain of love and yet a bedrock of justice? Didn’t Judah get what they deserved, what they themselves earned? Wont’ we? I think having your nation destroyed, your capital and Temple burned to the ground, and being taken in to Exile is pretty severe – and perhaps a measure of justice. Maybe each one of us here has received our own measure of justice. But we can be consoled that our deserved justice is not the last word. It is the infinite richness of God’s mercy which always seems to have the final word – not an indictment of sin, but the last word that comes wrapped in the gift of mercy and love. St Paul, in the second reading understands that as he writes: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ” Brought us home to Christ.
The divine, merciful love is the central assertion of today’s Gospel reading – heck, of all the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16, for God so loved the world, he held nothing back but went all-in, whatever it takes to get us to receive His mercy, receive His forgiveness, to enter into Jesus’ arms always open, always waiting. Always waiting in the light, calling us from the darkness of our deeds.
We could write our own Book of Chronicles. We could write our own history of sin. Stories of “I can’t believe I did that,” “I can’t believe I said that,” “If only I could make that choice again.” We have those moments of doubt bordering on despair – I don’t deserve God’s love or mercy. “Deserve?” “Deserve?” “As in ‘I haven’t earned it’?” Who earns love? Who deserves love? No one, that is the great thing about love. It comes as pure and simple gift. It comes when we aren’t loving. It comes when we are ready or not.
But we have to choose to accept that love. We have to raise our eyes to our God who has been lifted up high on the cross. We have to, in humility, look at Crucified Love, arms open wide – we have to look into the light and allow ourselves to be loved, to receive mercy, to be forgiven.
God will not save us without us.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works.” Created to become what we have received, to become loving, merciful and forgiving people whose actions give glory to God.
As a time of reconciliation, Lent reminds us that no human evil is beyond the pale of God’s love, for God so loved the world…” The Israelites added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations, yet God so loved them, and brought them home. Where the light was on and the home fires of mercy and love ablaze.
Come home, the light is always on and has been lifted high. Come home and be renewed in the warmth of God’s love. Come home.