“Greetings from this joyful season of Lent.” A priest friend of mine from Tucson sent this line to me last week. “Lent...joyful?” “What’s happy about it?” God is intimately close as we wrestle with our own Baptismal conversions. As we struggle to… “Get Real,” the desert can be a little dry and rocky: even lonely! But we bear a promise; an ancient covenant, a faithful presence that accompanies us as we journey through the desert of our own self centered-ness. It often turns it into something new. Last week it was a disarmed God who put aside his right to bear arms, and then hung up his weapon on a rainbow for all to see.
Look what he did for Abraham. The ancient story of impending violence toward children, makes our skin crawl. We ask ourselves, how could Abraham have even entertained the thought of sacrificing his son — let alone begin the preparations? The story of Abraham and Isaac is presented as God’s test of Abraham’s obedience in the midst of terrible distortions of human thinking. Perhaps it could lead us to deeper reparation for all the violence perpetrated to children throughout the world, sometimes in the name of religion. Our bishop will be celebrating his annual mass for that issue in Flagstaff in the coming weeks. There is still much to do to protect our little ones and assure that they can grow up in safety and peace. God can transform, even transfigure anything, any situation. This week of Lent gives us that hope.
In the story of Jesus’ passion, God took the murder of his beloved son and transformed it into the meta-moment of human salvation. Imagine! A moment of loss, torture and betrayal, becomes the key to the salvation of this beautiful planet. “The Son does die — at the hands of incredible human brutality. The final outcome: Jesus’ death gave way to resurrection. The out pouring of one’s life in death brought life.” (Many thanks to Ross Beaudoin’s reflection in a recent Celebration)
As the disciples got closer to the passion, a grace and vision was needed to carry them through. The growing resistance by the religious and Roman leadership to Jesus proclamation was hard to acknowledge. The beautiful vision of the Transfiguration gave them a graced resilience when the opposition turned violent and lethal. Lent takes us to the mountaintop with them.
The prophets’ presence of Moses and Elisha signals the long faithful history of God’s presence to his chosen people, and to the present age through Jesus. The voice from the cloud speaks the same words as at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan: “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him.” Hope says no matter what happens, God is in this. God is in charge, for them…and for us. Often, that is enough. We can walk the way of the cross, if we know that and cling to it in trust.
The news media dangles our complex violent world in front of us constantly through out most every day. I was interviewed on Ash Wednesday by a local news program. The reporter noted several times that a new study of Arizona indicates one third less people are coming to church. I asked her to inform the people who were filling St. Mary’s. They were here looking for something. We need a foretaste of the glory to get through what life throws at us. The problem is our imaginations. Lent tickles them with the possibility that God values our dusty lives more than we do. And reminds us that we are really star dust after all.
Dr. Martin Luther King said before his death that he had been to the mountaintop. We do as well. It can come in prayer that is open to the Spirit, or a bit of unplanned solitude; in a hospital bed or in the Sunday Scriptures, in the greeting of a hospitality minister in the front door or favorite hymn that comes to mind at an odd time. Our Lent connects us to God’s promises from the past, brought into the present and “played forward” into an eternal life.
A gentle week.