As you are probably aware, the season of Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to Easter Day and the Feast of the Resurrection. It is a season of penitence and fasting, in which we are invited to bring to mind our sinfulness, repent of our wrong-headedness and stiff-necks, and seek God’s forgiveness. Because Easter is a movable feast, falling on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Lent begins at different times each year. This means that the number of Sundays after the Epiphany can vary. What is unexpected, however, is when smack-dab in the middle of Lent, we get what feels like a Sunday in Epiphanytide.
Such is the case this Sunday with the foreshadowing that John uses in the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. The lessons appointed for the Sundays after the Epiphany tell the of the ongoing revelation of God to humanity through Jesus Christ. We hear of the Magi, who recognize Jesus as the King of the Jews thanks to the appearance of a star in the heavens. In the Baptism story, Jesus is revealed to be God’s beloved Son. Nathaniel recognizes Jesus as the King of Israel. The season always concludes with the Transfiguration of Christ, wherein Peter, James, and John are made privy to Jesus’ full revelation as the Christ of God.
In Sunday’s lesson, then, the Third Sunday in Lent becomes another opportunity for who Jesus really is to be revealed to the disciples. After the Jewish leaders demand some credentials after his turning the Temple system on its ear, Jesus tells them what the sign will be. “Tear down this temple, and I will build it back in three days.” John concludes the story by noting that “after [Jesus] was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
It is a slow play, to be sure, two, more likely even three years, in the making. Over the course of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is continually pulling back the curtain, slowly, as his disciples and crowds are able, unveiling more and more fully who he really is and what he came to do. It is helpful, I think, here in the season of Lent, to take a moment to reflect on what this time of preparation reveals to us about Jesus. From the Ash Wednesday invitation to a holy Lent all the way through Holy Saturday’s holy waiting, the lead-up to Jesus’ Passion and death are constantly unveiling God’s grace and mercy to us.