Lent begins late this year…throwing Easter late…throwing Pentecost late…and Confirmation with it….. I do not understand God to be some big puppet master in the sky orchestrating our lives, but it is amazing how things often seem to come together in the way that we need them to be. It’s almost as if God knew that we United Methodist would need Lent to wait for the Special General Conference to end so that we could really get our hearts in the right place for a penitent Lent. Of course God doesn’t work that way, but let’s just go with it since it does seem to fit.
We have much for which we all need to repent. It is easy to pick a position and point fingers at the other side. Before and after General Conference there has been plenty of that going around. Some of it is born out of anger. Some of it is born out of a deep hurt. Some of it I struggle to understand. I’m not going to point to our sisters and brothers in the African church. Theirs is a life and culture that I have never experienced so it is not my place. Nor am I going to point to our LGBTQIA+ sisters and brothers. Theirs too is a life that I have never experienced so it is not my place. As a white CIS woman it is my place to love and include those who are not like me. It is my place to seek to understand more than to seek to be understood. And we (white American heterosexual people) don’t do a very good job of seeking understand. Rather, we talk…a lot…and then we talk some more.
Ash Wednesday is just a couple of days away. It is a time of confession. Let us confess our own sin rather than the sin (as we see it) of our sisters and brothers. So of what do we need to repent? Let’s just start with all the ‘isms’ and go from there. We all have at least a few. Perhaps we should add some arrogance to our list in thinking that we can speak for others better than they can speak for themselves. Let’s repent from our unwillingness to really listen to the opinions and ideas of others. I wonder what would happen if we all became comfortable with silence enough to listen completely and then think about what is said or offered of another’s experience before we start to even think about formulating a response.
Ash Wednesday is also a time for contemplating our own mortality and, perhaps this year, contemplating the potential mortality of our church as we know it. The church I grew up in (the Methodist and United Methodist Church) has always been a place where progressives and traditionalists (though we didn’t call them that) lived in tension with one another. It is a reflection of the tension of our faith…a Savior who is both fully human and fully divine; God who both judges and is merciful; grace offered as a free gift; and love of God which we cannot possibly earn nor is it possible to lose. Have we become so much a part of the world that we can no longer live in the tension of what it means to be a Holy People?
Lastly, Ash Wednesday as the first day of Lent is also for many people the beginning of the tradition of giving something up for Lent. It often begins as a day of fasting, i.e., giving up something. Some people add other fasts throughout Lent. I will fast for Ash Wednesday as I turn my attention to both confession and contemplation. I hope that you will join me both in a fast and the break-fast after 6 p.m. services. I will also add other fasts throughout the season this year although this has never been my practice in the past. This is just the year for it. And rather than giving something up (chocolate, sweets, carbs, Facebook, computer games, etc.), I plan to take something on this year. And I’m going to tell you what I plan so that you can lovingly nudge me when I fail to get me back on track.
This year I’m going to take on silence in the midst of the noise. Many of you know the importance of silence in my prayer life. I suspect that has been easy compared to silence in the noise. I will strive to fully listen before formulating a response. Hard to do, I know, but I shall try. Perhaps I will resort to lots of chocolate, carbs, etc. in an effort to stay silent! But I truly want this to be a Holy Lent. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I don’t know what’s coming for the church that I love so dearly. What I do know is that Christ is walking along each one of us in what can sometimes seem like a moonless night without a single star. And because Christ is here, we are not alone and we will get through whatever the future holds. We will come out on the other side a stronger, more closely bound, more Christ-like people.
May you find your way to a Holy Lent as we walk this path together, holding onto one another.