A message given at the Eagle Lake Lenten Lunch 3/27/2017
Let us pray, Dear gracious God, we thank you for this time together in fellowship to be with you and each other. Open our ears so that the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Amen.
From Ephesians 5:8-14
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
For many of us, Lent began with the ashes. Ashes have been used throughout history as a sign of repentance. Ash Wednesday is the day that we start to sink down into a pit of darkness. By using ashes we mark ourselves with a visible sign that we are interconnected with each other and with the world in a deeply primordial way; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This dusty darkness is not only a time in which we reflect on our mortality but on creation and rebirth. For God created all things. And for Adam, he was created from this very dust, the dust of the Earth. We are created; by the creator, from his creation, into his image. This cycle of life; being created from dust and eventually becoming dust again is just one of the many layers of Lent.
The layer which we often focus on is the giving up of something. We appear to use this ritual in a way that almost seems as if we are making a second chance on our failed New Year’s Resolutions. At the New Year, we often make resolutions to give up something. And from statistics, we know that only 8% of people are successful in their New Year’s resolution. Most of them don’t make it much past a month. So here we find ourselves a few months past New Year’s and we are trying to give up something yet again. To give something up, just for the sake of giving it up, is rather nonsensical. Lent is not about losing weight or eating right. It is about looking within yourself to improve your relationship with God and each other.
The Christian tradition does offer us ascetic practices of self-denial, in which we try to improve our spiritual life by depriving ourselves of something. This deprivation goes beyond our mimicking of Jesus in the wilderness during his forty days of temptation by the Satan. It is more like what we have seen this in movies where monks will take a vow of silence for a period of time. The Greek word asceticism means to practice in bodily exercise such as an athlete in training. To give up sorting in this manner is more than giving up chocolate or coca cola. There is a rule to follow and if you fail, or each time you fail, there is a penalty. No pain – no gain so to speak. This penance or consequence of your action is often something difficult. To help coach you, you may even have a confessor who you speak with. Each time you fail they will guide and coach you back into the rule that you set up for yourself. Let’s be honest, not many of us are spiritually ready for such a rigorous and difficult practice.
Now, this doesn’t me we cannot give up things in other ways to improve our walk with Christ. But if we give something up without a plan to fill that space, we are unlike to fill it in a spiritual way. This is why I prefer to look at this discipline from the reverse in which we add something to our daily routine. This daily addition enhances our walk with Christ. We can intentionally do something such as read the Bible, meditate on God’s presence in our life, or even daily prayer. Many of these actions we find difficult to do. We know this to be true else we would be doing them more already. In our busy lives, adding something is really the same as giving something up and possibly even better. Our daily routines are often so jam-packed that not many of us could take 15 minutes twice a day for prayer without giving something up or pushing something else to the side; like watching TV or surfing the net. In this case, we are not focusing on giving up something. In adding something significant, something else of less importance will just naturally fall out of the way. To focus on giving up something or even adding something to our lives is just one more of the many layers of Lent.
As I mentioned Lent is a time of darkness; a time of already but not yet. We cannot deny that Christ is present with us in our lives but in Lent, we are in an unusual time when Christ has not been resurrected. In our lectionary, we are walking with Christ on his way to the cross. We are with him each step of the way and like the disciples, we don’t fully understand what this all means. This is why many churches during Lent do not say the infamous “A” word; Alleluia. We have nothing to celebrate because we sort of imagine ourselves back in a time when God’s gift of grace has not yet come to us. We know of our sinful nature, in which we do not love God with our whole heart; let alone each other. We know that we do not live our lives as we should. There are things we have done or left undone that are hurtful. And without the resurrection of Christ we are left wallowing in this pit of darkness, putting on sackcloth and ashes, repent to God and to each other; just as the king of Nineveh, or Job, or numerous others have done throughout the Bible.
When we let ourselves sink down into this deeper-earthy, meaning of Lent; in which our lives are changed by self-examination and repentance. We realize that we are nothing, nothing but dust and ash. This is where we are right now; more than half way through Lent. We should be all too aware of the pain we inflict on ourselves and each other. And as the scripture says, we are bringing those shameful things that were in darkness into the light.
Yet Lent doesn’t stop here. Possibly the most important layer of Lent is that by removing ourselves from the Light of Christ, our hearts get used to this darkness much like our eyes get used to a dark night sky. At first, we cannot see the stars in the sky. A few minutes later we see the bright ones, and then eventually we see all of them. By that time we have arrived at Easter, and on Easter, when we find ourselves standing at the opening of the tomb, we realize that it is empty. Then the brightness of Christ light shines through our souls and we can do nothing but exclaim Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Without this contrast of darkness and light, it can be difficult to fully appreciate Christ’s Light within us and around us. For it is through Christ, and our rebirth, that we Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”