Lent 5C, a Holy Desert


Propers can be found here

A Holy Desert Lent

I spend a great deal of Lent trying to suppress the gently ironic raised brow that tugs upon my forehead as I go about my day.    The gourmet fish fry, the LONG wait to try and get into the best fish and chips shop in the city (two hours, plus on any given Lenten friday),  the general drunken debauchery of St. Patrick’s day.  All of these things, while they may be fun, all seem to stand in direct opposition to what we are supposed to be doing.  So much for the words we hear on Ash Wednesday in the invitation to a Holy Lent,

“It was also a time when those who, because of
notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to
the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation
was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set
forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all
Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.”

In short, Lent is a time of repentance--facing and acknowledging our sins with the intent to sin no more; a time of self denial; and a time for forgiveness and the restoration of community.  Nothing about fish fries, no matter how delicious, nothing about giving up sweets or taking on more prayer, nothing even about the dilemma we face when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weekday in Lent and whether a saint’s feast day trumps Lenten piety!  

However, there is lots to be said about restoration of community, about forgiveness, about self reflection and about renewal.  Lent is a journey towards wholeness, a time when broken people, in broken communities, in a broken world are invited to see God in their midst--in our midst.  And, the place we are invited to see God, is in the literal and metaphorical desert of our lives.

To embrace the metaphor, Lent can be a time of self imposed desert wandering and wilderness walking.  We are invited to put not just our problems in perspective, but our whole lives.    We are called to remember who we are and to whom we belong.  We are called to remember that God dwells amongst us and that we are called to be God in the world, we are reminded of the centrality of community and the strength of God’s love.  

This metaphor of finding God in the desert came out of a very literal time and place, a true desert, a barren wilderness and an all too real exile from home.  The book of the prophet Isaiah was written in three parts and the section we hear today is from the portion which addressed the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon.  Oppressed and marginalized, they were finding it difficult to see and follow the God of their people.  
Isaiah reminds them of the trajectory of history...a trajectory which has shown again and again that salvation will come.  The prophet is emphatic...God has always offered a way through the sea; a path in the wilderness and water in the desert.  

And in that emphasis there is an enjoinder to let go of the past and move into a new future, to be where you are when you are there.  And, in that place you will find God, a God who is calling us, and transforming us.  And in that relationship with the God of salvation we (and indeed, the Israelites) are a people who are reconciled and forgiven.  They and we move through the desert, one foot in front of the other...knowing that there is no way out but through.  

As you move through the wilderness, whatever that wilderness is for you--both as individuals and as a community--I wonder, how will this Lent transform you?  Who will you be when you step out of the desert, what hopes and dreams will be made manifest.  

At times it seems improbable, that our suffering and wilderness wanderings will bear fruit.  But, as the psalm says, "when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream"

Does the happy ending seem like a mere dream?  Does reconciliation and rejoicing seem beyond our reach?  What does it take to be confident in God's love--to trust that this Lent will end, that this hard time will pass?  

At one point a few years ago, during a particularly challenging and painful time in our family, I joked that Jesus must have been on vacation in Belize, because if Jesus had been there surely life would be better.  Jesus with his uncanny ability to perform miracles that seemingly fixed “everything”, a veritable Superman there to scoop us up, just in the nick of time. 

Robert Capon in his book "Hunting the Divine Fox" writes, “The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman.”  He continues, “Jesus- gentle, meek and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than-human insides- bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven.  It’s got it all...”   

If we keep waiting for a superman, for someone else to save us from each other and from ourselves, from our pain and from our suffering.  If we are looking for someone to scoop us out of the desert, out of the wilderness, without any work on our part...well, if that’s the case, we are in serious trouble.  

Because, if we hold up Christ as an “other” as somehow possessing skills and abilities that are so beyond our own “weak and insufficient” powers than it becomes too easy for “here I am send me” to become “where is Jesus, send him!”  How can we mere mortals, without any superhuman powers, seek to do what Jesus did?

Which begs the question “what did Jesus do?”.  And for that, I turn to today’s Gospel...a time in the narrative of his earthly life in which Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing very much at all.  A Gospel narrative that many find troubling for Jesus’ words

“The poor you will have with you always, but you won't always have me.”

The perfume that Mary anoints him with is equivalent in value to the wages a day laborer would have earned in a year.  And, in my concern for social justice and ministry in the world, I can feel the ire rise in me and I nod my head in response to Judas’ words, “why wasn’t the money given to the poor?”  

Why wasn’t it?  Can Mary’s actions only be interpreted as the squandering of a precious resource or is there something more there?  

Simply, devotion to Christ is not in opposition to our concern for the poor.  When Mary gives herself over to love for her friend and grief over his impending death, she is fully present in the moment--not the past, not the future, but right now.  She gives all of us the opportunity to see the fully human man who led and loved a movement into being.  She’s giving us the chance to mourn with her at the loss of a friend.  And, Jesus reminds us that part of what we learn at the feet of our dying friend is empathy for the victims of the world.  Through our love and care for the suffering servant we are asked to care for those very folk who will suffer and die as he did in the world.

By showing us how to care for a friend, Mary is showing us how to care for each other, those fellow wanderers in the desert, the thirsty and the weary.  Everyone here has been in the desert at one time or another or you may even be there now--and it may be that the person beside you will be as Christ to you in showing you the way.   There is no Superman to come and save you, save yourself and save each other...be Christ and look for Christ, know that you are not alone and there is no way out but through.  Welcome and enjoy your sojourn in this Holy Lent.  

Comments

Sharon said…
"Simply, devotion to Christ is not in opposition to our concern for the poor." So simple. So true. Thanks!
Beth said…
Beautiful. My prophet/pastor has a saying - "you're somewhere in the future and you look better than you look right now." It's hard to get your head around - the literal timelessness of God.

Anyway. I'm not Catholic, but I'm so encourage by this new Pope and his reaching out to people. Such an example. The world really needs a servant leader.
Joy said…
Thank you Sharon and Beth.

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