40 days of lent
AS THE CHURCH wends its way through Lent, the last days of Jesus become the focus of the lectionary. The story of those days is hopelessly entangled with the story of the early church establishing and defining itself. One consequence of this is the habit of the Johannine gospel (John 2:13-22) to blame “the Jews” for all that befalls Jesus. Its authors are a long way from Mark’s portrait of a Torah-observant Jewish Jesus (Mark 14:3-9). And yet John 3:16 proclaims the love of God for the world; no sibling rivalry can stand in the face of that love. Similarly, Jesus announces that he will draw all people to himself in John 12:32.
The epistles emphasize that Christ calls all, non-Jews (lumped together under the moniker “the Greeks”) and Jews, in 1 Corinthians 1:18. The emphasis on God’s love and mercy in Ephesians 2:4 makes this reading especially suitable for Lent.
The readings from Hebrews and Philippians on the last two Sundays focus on a heavenly Christ who is exalted, in sharp distinction to the earthly Jesus betrayed and executed in the passion gospel.
This diversity of texts reveals Jesus through the different lenses of his faithful at varying points in the church’s story, inviting us to add our vision and voice to the telling of that story.
[ March 4 ]
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS spell out human responsibilities in the covenant between God and Israel, and subsequently to us, who have become party to that covenant. Not surprising, the commandments that pertain directly to God precede those that pertain to sister and brother human beings. The commandments are presented as being on the very lips of God. It is not clear whether God speaks through Moses or directly addresses the people. (In Exodus 20:18, the people witness the lightning, thunder, and smoke that accompany God’s speech and ask God not to speak to them, raising the possibility that they saw but had not heard or didn’t want to hear further.)
This spring, I gave up alcohol for Lent, the forty days of penitence between Ash Wednesday and Easter. And now almost one week after the Alleluias and Easter baskets, I may be addicted to Lent.
On Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent began, my thirteen-year daughter Maya explained alcohol to her seven-year old sister in the backseat of our car: “See, sometimes adults just like having a drink after a long day of work. It helps them relax.” That same week, one of my friends said, “You aren’t a heavy drinker, but you are a consistent drinker.”
It was time to take a break, even if I knew that one glass of red wine at night wasn’t the end of the world. I needed to give it up because I wasn’t sure if I could.
The night was cold and dark as the family approached the border. Ahead of them were miles of desert that would test their will and drain their stamina. What they were doing defied the law. But they were a family, and families will do anything for the sake of their children.
The law they defied was that of Herod. The family: Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child.
As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, let us remember that the life that ended on the cross began on the road. This Easter, let us remember that Christ the Savior began his life as an immigrant, fleeing the land where he was born to escape Herod’s wrath.
Easter is a holiday of new beginnings. It welcomes a new season. It is a time to start fresh. At the heart of Easter is a magnificent reservoir of grace. Of this holiday, Katherine Lee Bates reflected, “It is the hour to rend thy chains, the blossom time of souls.” Easter is a time to set people free, fix things that are broken, watch souls blossom — all for glory of the risen Christ.
Use this Lenten season as a time to grow closer to God and simplify your life. Try a new suggestion from this list each day and experience the stronger relationships and calmer pace of an (almost) Amish lifestyle!
1. Start a giveaway box and add at least three items of clothes you have not worn in the last year.
2. Is there a form of technology that is ruling you like a master rather than serving you like a tool? Unplug for 24 hours and rediscover the peace that passes all understanding.