Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent- Preparing us to be Free

Matthew 6:16-18- ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
In a recent clergy session, one of my colleagues remarked that many people in her congregation dislike lent.  They complain that it is a dreary time of the church year when all of the focus seems to be on what people do wrong that culminates in the gruesome death of Jesus Christ.  Though I’ve never felt as negative toward Lent as others, I can see where her congregation is coming from.  Lent is indeed a time where we focus on preparing our hearts and minds for the coming Holy Week.  A good part of that is meant to be in reflection about the ways we fall short in living into the image of who God wanted us to be.  And there is no way to soften the atrocities that humans are capable of committing-  including murdering the very person who was sent to the world so that we could be reconciled with God.  
I think the main reason we will feel this is a dreary time is that we lose track of what the ultimate goals are and instead focus on beating ourselves up.  Our focus goes toward what we are giving up, the sins we persist in, and the gory details of our savior’s death.  I think Jesus spoke to this a bit in the above scripture.  Jesus doesn’t condemn fasting, but he condemns those who revel in the negativity by trying to out do each other by demonstrating just how miserable they really are.  In this way, the fast will seem like a punishment that is being imposed so that they can make up for the wrong things they have done.  
I think this fundamentally misses the point of what Lent is about.  Its not about reveling in the negativity- its about loosing the chains that hold us back so we can become newly invigorated people who are bursting forth with energy to spread the good news of what God has done in our lives.  Fasting is designed to free the time and money we would normally spend eating to use for pray and listening to God’s will.  Confession is designed to release us of the guilt of our sins so that we might move forward into being the people God created us to be.  Lent is not a time of oppression- its a journey toward freedom- the freedom to participate in the wonderful kingdom of God that is being formed right here on earth.  This Lent, let’s embrace the challenge to emerge from Lent not as depressed and disheveled people, but as people prepared to hear the startling news that we too have been given new life and are ready to emerge from the tomb.
God’s blessings be upon you during this Lenten journey.