Dear Edwards Church Community,
Lent can be a time for self-denial, the harnessing of our appetites, and a time for taking on additional spiritual disciplines like alms giving and service to others. The point is not which technique we use; the point is following Jesus through forty days of preparation to take up our cross, in order not to lose our lives but to live them even more fully.
Early in Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes proclaiming the good news that the kingdom or kin-dom of God, the realm of God’s love and justice fully realized, has drawn near. He comes inviting all who can hear him to turn themselves around, to re-orient themselves to this message and trust it. That realm is already at hand, even today with all the violence, poverty and injustice. But it is obscured.
Lent is not about self-denial or sharing so that we can prove our merit or earn our way into that realm. Lent is about finding whatever combination of activities (self-denial or self-giving) will help us to let go of our individualism, our insistence on self-determination and striving to earn or deserve God’s love and forgiveness. Only then can we embrace the reality that we are all made in such a way that we need each other and God, not just to survive, but to thrive. And when we acknowledge the reality of that need, we can live life to its fullest, sharing joyfully and without reservation.
Several years ago, this community shared a book based, adult faith formation activity. The book was Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rhor. The book’s thesis is Lenten: as followers of Jesus, we naturally spend a lot of time and energy in the first part of our lives growing “up.” We acquire knowledge and experience. We become competent; we acquire “marketable skills” so we can have an impact (or just get by) in the world, earn a living and be useful. We might even achieve self-expression and the respect or admiration of others. We develop a sense of self, a (hopefully) healthy ego.
No Lenten theme would be complete without its Holy Week. In Falling Upward, we read about the need to let die enough of our self-interest and carefully constructed ego, to make room within us for a new life, one less cluttered with the comfortable reassurance of self-satisfaction. Facing that challenge in our private Gethsemane, we can pray as Jesus did for the courage to surrender. Following Jesus is no easier for us than it was for his first disciples. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
The second half of life begins when we surrender to losing some of the attributes of the carefully constructed story we tell ourselves about why and how we deserve all that we have (if not more). The second half of life begins when we start to refocus the center of our energy not on what serves us, but what serves the purpose of making God’s love and justice more real, more present to others.
If you thought it would be easy, you have not been listening. If it sounds familiar, but still challenging, you have.