My grandfather was one of those people who poured his whole being into yard work. When he mowed the lawn, he did so as if he held a grudge against long grass. When he cut away dead branches, he did it with such gusto that one wondered whether he secretly prayed for his trees to lose their limbs. And when he raked leaves, he acted as if his life depended on stuffing piles of leaves into a battered steel garbage can. As you can imagine, this was an exhausting enterprise, especially given the heat and humidity of summertime Connecticut (yes, it does get hot in CT for a few weeks). Nevertheless, my grandfather refused to take breaks. He would not pause in his valiant struggle against the yard until he had finished all of the work appointed for the day. He even refused my grandmother’s offers of iced tea, lemonade, or water; he would forge ahead, sweating to the point of dehydration, until everything was done. My grandfather did not forgo breaks simply because of his herculean work ethic, but because he wanted the beer he would drink as a reward for his hard work to taste that much better. He wanted to be so thirsty that the Polish lager he pulled from the fridge as he walked into the house would be one of the best things he ever tasted. He deprived himself so that when the time came, he could feel even more refreshed than he would otherwise.
Tomorrow is known in some liturgical churches as “Refreshment Sunday.” Also called “Laetare Sunday” (from the Latin for “let us rejoice”), “Mothering Sunday,” and “Rose Sunday,” the fourth Sunday in Lent is a time when the Church is invited to pause in its Lenten fast, to take a break from the intensity of this penitential season, and refresh itself in preparation for the second half of Lent. The liturgy bears this out. While most of the Lenten prayers at the beginning of the Sunday service are about sin and our need for repentance, the prayer for the fourth Sunday in Lent is all about God’s grace and love: “Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him.” In some churches, the clergy wear rose-colored vestments (instead of a more mournful purple) for Laetare Sunday, a visual cue that this day is not quite as intense as the rest of the Sundays in Lent. Refreshment Sunday is a day that we remind ourselves that Lent is not supposed to be a time that we deprive ourselves just for the sake of being deprived, nor is it meant to be a time that we give something up just so that it will taste that much sweeter when Lent finally ends; Lent is a time that we prepare ourselves to embrace and celebrate the Resurrection life offered to us in Jesus Christ. So tomorrow, I invite you to take a break from Lent. Have a cupcake, drink a caffeinated beverage, eat a little barbecue. After all, Sunday is always a celebration of the Resurrection. However you observe Laetare Sunday, remember that Lent is a time to grow closer to God and prepare for the Resurrection.