Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back to Lent

In 2007 my beautiful sister, Penny, passed away.  We gathered by her grave hidden among the pines and sycamores on a sunlit-dappled hillside that could have come straight from a chapter of Little House on the Prairie.  We sang Amazing Grace and visions of Penny dancing barefoot on a similar grassy hillside somewhere far away comforted me in a special way; she had been severely handicapped and could not talk, walk, or care for herself while she was here on this earth.  The thought of her whole, laughing, dancing - and the possibility of knowing her someday in a way we could not while she was here was joy set before me.

It may seem morbid, but I hold a special reverence in my heart for funerals and feel privileged when I get to participate in one.  It is one of the few moments when it seems socially acceptable to remember, and it seems so good and right to honor a life by doing so - to acknowledge together its value, and to tell of those things that made it special.  

I have often thought it a waste to wait until a funeral to remember someone's life, to tell favorite stories, to laugh at ridiculous moments, to celebrate a person.  

Perhaps that is what should happen at birthdays, too, but I rarely experience it at any of the parties I am invited to for such.  There is something sacred about remembering a person - who he is, who she was, the meaning of that one, unique life telling its one, unique story.

Another great waste, in my summation, is the way we do not take the time to remember ourselves.  We live from day to day, sometimes completely baffled as to how we have come to be where we are - how we have come to be who we are.

We often get hit at some point in our journey with a shocking realization that our lives do not look the way we thought they would - or the way we want them to.  How did this happen? we wonder. 

But rarely do we take the time to reflect.  In fact, we are often discouraged from it.  "Live for today" is a valid and yet sometimes misleading colloquialism.  "You are a new creation - the old is gone, the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17) can be equally deceptive out of context, especially if we think we are supposed to somehow "forget" the past and press on toward the goal (Phil 3:13-14).

But, of course, it was never Paul's intention to forget who he was.  

No!  In fact, Paul constantly takes the time to remember and tell his story as a Jew, his story as a Pharisee, his story about the road to Damascus.  The good news is in and can only be told by his own story, his testimony.  He remembers who he has been so that he can remember and tell others about what God has done.

And that, of course, brings back to Lent.

*     *     *

There are a lot of cliches that circle the trenches these days.  A good number of them ask us to consider where our identity resides.  "Who does God say you are?" they chant.  It's a valid question in a world of a million stories, each attempting to cast us in a particular role and assign meaning to our lives.  But truthfully, the answers that follow any such questions are often disconnected - from the context of scripture, from personal relationship with God, and from our own stories.

"Hello, my name is Child of the One True King" a popular song proclaims.

Okay.  What does that mean?

It means I am "adopted into the family of God!"  I am a saint!  I am a sinner saved by grace!

Okay.  So, where were you before you were adopted?  What were you before you were a saint?  What were you saved from?  

Oh, you know, sin.

Okay, so what's that?  What did that look like in your life?  What does it look like now?


The truth is, you can't coherently tell the story of God unless you can tell your own story - just like Paul.  And just like Paul, you can't tell us who you are without recounting who you've been.

On Ash Wednesday I shared the story of the Hebrews trapped in slavery at the beginning of Exodus.  Why?   Their story, their past, is important. It is what made them the people of God. It is what tells the story of God.  It is how we remember God, what God has done, and the covenant God has called us to.  In fact, that seems to be the whole point of God choosing a people in the first place; it turns out that the world has a difficult time knowing and receiving God apart from God's people! (Gen 18:18)

Yes, Lent is about remembering the suffering of Christ, the path he walked to the cross!  And how can we do that with any authenticity if the story of Christ doesn't mean something about us?  What good is the Good News if it has nothing to do with you?  What purpose does the crucifixion have if it doesn't have the power to impact me, to change my story, to set me free?

"I want to know Christ," Paul wrote from prison, "Yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).

Lent, and its invitation to remember, is the proclamation of the story of Christ - but not as a single event that happened thousands of years ago, a bed time narrative we repeat to our children, a theological doctrine with which we may either agree or disagree.  Lent is the recognition that the story of Christ was meant to be and is our story somehow.  We were meant to share in it and we do - yes, "indeed, we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:17b).

How?  How do we share in all of this?

We start, even as Paul did, by telling our story, by remembering who we are and who we've been...

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