Tom’s Turn - Lent, For the Mess
Is Lent really what we need? We non-conformist Disciples are perfectly free and right to ask the question. After all, our tradition says that traditions don’t matter a whole heck of a lot. Our way of doing things—since the earliest days of this frontier movement to discard Christian divisive things and seek unity—has been to hold all previous ways of doing things up for scrutiny and then, usually, to jettison them. Can you find them doing it in scripture? No, even better, can you find them doing it in the New Testament? No, better still, can you find them doing it in the Acts of the Apostles? If not, then, well, you certainly don’t have to do it, and maybe you shouldn’t do it!
By this reasoning process, Lent (or any seasons of the church year, but we won’t get into all the rest right now!) is not something set aside by the earliest church. Well, maybe you can find some circumstantial evidence of such things. But nowhere can you find, “And lo, the Lord declareth the setting aside of a period before Easter for fasting and self-denial and penitential reflection upon his walk toward the Cross.” Sorry, it’s not there. Nor does it say, “Thou shalt begin this season by having the mark of the cross placed upon thy forehead in ashes.”
So, why Lent? And why Ash Wednesday? And why preachments to walk with Jesus toward his Passion and death? It has to do with something like this: [story told by Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith]
A boy from a troubled home participated in a children’s writing program, and for one of his assignments he wrote a poem called “The Monster Who Was Sorry.” It told of a boy whose father scolded him. The boy responded with anger. He threw his little sister down some stairs. He went from one room of the house to the next trashing things. Then he proceeded to trash the entire town. The poem concludes: “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have done all that.’”
Lent is about our messy house, our messy town, and all we’ve done to make them that way. We are not monsters, nor do we have to act like monsters. We are merely human. But salvation begins only when we look at our mess, sitting in our messy house, driving our messy streets, and say to ourselves, “I shouldn’t have done all that.”
There is ancient wisdom embedded in that little poet from the troubled home. It is the same wisdom of the church which developed prompts for us to take a look at ourselves and our messes. Those prompts can and often do include ashes and fasting and self-denial and penitential reflection upon our Lord’s walk toward the Cross.
Oh, and then we can get to work cleaning up the messy house.
I’ll see you and that guest you’ve been intending to bring under the dome on Sunday. Remember to carpool when you can. Wash your hands often during this flu season. Find some way today to share the Good News, even if it’s only with a smile. And prepare for Sunday’s worship by reading Gen. 9.8-17.