What Lent is Really For
Welcome to the First Sunday of Lent. People have all kinds of notions about the season of Lent: a time to give up favorite foods (chocolate cake) or pastimes (gambling), go on a diet, or do some nice things for others that you wouldn’t ordinarily do the rest of the year (except on Christmas). Originally though, Lent was, and still is, a time of preparation for baptismal candidates, the final six weeks before their baptism at the Easter Vigil and, for the rest of the baptized community, it is a time to learn how to be better disciples of Jesus.
The readings we have on the Sundays during Lent (in all three years) are all meant to deepen the process of conversion in the Candidates for Holy Baptism. They serve this purpose well, but others have suggested (the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer the most famous among them) that during Lent the Church should read and study the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, dividing it up over the six Sundays. The argument goes: these chapters are all about Jesus’ training of his disciples and the Lectionary most years doesn’t include these important chapters.
Since other readings are appointed for us, maybe we could make a goal to read and reflect on Matthew 5-7 on our own as part of our Lenten discipline.
Today in our reading from Genesis 9 we have the story of the Flood. The story of the Flood is seen as an ante-type for baptism: we go through the water, drown (die), and rise up to new life. So the theme of baptism is right here in the first reading! Great! But both the baptismal candidate and the rest of the community have to go deeper into the dynamic of the story. A few chapters earlier, Genesis 6, it says God looked at the world and all he saw was violence. So here we can ask ourselves (like we did in the Abraham/Isaac story) what kind of a God we are trying to follow: is it an angry, violent God that wants to destroy all violent evildoers with more violence, or, a God of the rainbow who never wants to add violence, however justified (people may think), to existing violence. Is the first God a human projection (like the bumper sticker: Jesus is coming back soon and he’s going to be mad!) or is God (even when we wish he wasn’t) like a real peacemaker and when plan A doesn’t work, will try plan B, and so forth.
A person who would be a disciple of Jesus has to decide to leave the usual human entanglement with violence (especially violence done for “sacred” reasons) against “evil” violence and adopt God’s commitment to abstain from violence altogether. Discipleship is hard and costly. Overall, Christian history has been a huge failure in this regard. The Rainbow God of Jesus suffered human violence and never declared revenge or asked his followers to do violence to the violent.
We try to follow Jesus, who, after his baptism in the Jordan by John, was driven by the Spirit into the desert, filled with wild beasts, to be tempted by Satan. His call as God’s Son was fully tested there. Would he use his power to end the struggle or learn from it to understand the human condition: the temptation human beings have to fashion idols and worship falsehood which becomes the root cause of so much violence and sadness in the world. Jesus stuck it out, didn’t waver, give in, or call for help. Because of his experience in the desert, Jesus came to know our struggles first hand in his own person and never condemned, but always came down on the side of forgiveness and mercy toward his fellow humans. As disciples of Jesus we follow his lead.
So we might want to diet during Lent and give up chocolate cake or ice cream, but I hope we will remember that Lent is much more than that. It’s really about becoming a more committed disciple of Jesus Christ. Like the German philosopher Fuerbach said: Mann ist wass er isst. Man is what he eats. It’s true. When we gather together to hear God’s word, confess our sins, and take the Eucharistic bread with faith and devotion, we will become stronger disciples of Jesus. This is what the world needs more than anything else.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
|The Reverend John Smith, Vicar|
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