Usually, Lent is my favorite season of the church calendar. I enjoy the weight of it. It’s a time where we embrace the sweeping grandeur of the Christian story. Lent feels like we are trying to embrace both the beginning and the end while holding space for all the messiness of the in between and you never quite know if your arms will stretch that far. It’s a time where we speak hard truths and tell long stories. We remind each other that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We try to make time for the whole of our story: gardens and floods, parted seas and dry bones, wilderness wanderings and healings, death and resurrection.
This year I am a bit baffled by Lent. I’m not sure how to approach it. Many of us have taken on Lenten practices of giving something up to make us more mindful of Christ’s suffering. Yet what should we do in a year marked by so much suffering? In light of the last year, I’m struggling to see the point of abstaining from anything. It feels both trivial and cruel somehow, given the amount of things we’ve given up this year.
In the past, if I haven’t given something up, I would identify a new practice to take on. That seems overwhelming this year too. We’ve all been asked to adapt constantly. I don’t know about you but I am weary in both body and soul. The thought of voluntarily taking on something new is almost incomprehensible.
Our second pandemic Lent brings questions with it. What does faithfulness look like this year? How do we engage Lent without gathering in person? What does Lent mean apart from the soup suppers and our normal practices? What does it mean for those whose lives have been constantly marked by grief for a long time now?
We are not the same as we were last year. Perhaps the faithful place to start is by bringing the whole of who we are now to the stories that we sit with in Lent. Whatever our state, we are invited to encounter Christ and realize that once again God is with us. Emmanuel enters our story and meets us where we are. Allow Lent to be an invitation to hear these stories with new ears and changed imaginations.
We hear again the story of Christ’s baptismal blessing followed immediately by a wilderness journey full of temptation and the presence of wild animals. Can we identify with that anew? What has it felt like to be driven from places of worship and blessing into spaces that feel dangerous and isolated? Can we find healing in knowing that Jesus had similar experiences? God is present, even here…in the spaces without an alleluia.
During Lent, we sit with the story of the disciples facing a storm and finding Jesus asleep. Will we understand the disciples better this time? Will we recognize the anxiety of being at the mercy of circumstances beyond your control? Maybe we will feel it in our bodies this year, the knot in the stomach when death seems imminent. Do we understand what it feels like to find the authority figure asleep? The disciple’s sense of fear, betrayal and outrage seem more tangible this year. What will we find if we take the time to sit with this story and encounter Christ as he speaks peace? What might Jesus say to us, in the midst of our storms?
As we continue the journey toward the cross, there are many ways to hear the story anew. Faithful discipleship means encountering Christ again. Encountering Jesus just as we are now. We will find once again that God is present, even here. If we are anxious or depressed, God is with us. If we are sick, hungry, or grieving, God is with us. When we are victims of prolonged, systemic injustice, God is with us. There is no part of the human story that God has not touched. There is no part of the human story that God’s presence does not transform.
In Lent we remember that we are ashes…
But we are also breath.
Miraculous things happen when God plays in the dirt.
That is the blessing I leave you with today, dear one. May your Lenten journey find God at play in you: in the dusty spaces, the painful spaces, the anxious moments and the wondrous ones. May you find that God is with you. May you find hope in the ancient stories. May you find God making all things new.