Today is the first Sunday in Lent.
As a practice at First Trinity, along with many in the Lutheran and other Christian traditions,
Lent is a time of re-orientation, re-focus, re-vision, repentance.
We bury our “A***luias,” including that acclamation we always sing,
right before we read Jesus’ words in the Gospel,
the song we sing
in the presence of the Resurrected Savior,
the song the angels sing around the throne of God.
“Glory to you, O Lord, Praise to you, O Christ.”
Also during Lent, we abstain from our hymn of praise and joy, usually sung after confession and absolution.
Instead, we just, confess, forgive, and quickly move right along.
Almost as if it didn’t happen.
Many of our other songs become about repentance,
Being apart or alienated,
or looking for God.
In other words, we sing about a lot of things that can be pretty difficult to talk about.
We bury, hide,
from anything that might distract us from the the severity, the loneliness, even the absence of the forty days.
We bury anything that might distract us from the Cross—or the crosses—in us,
and all around us,
in this, our deeply, disturbingly
Each year, we burry our songs of presence and joy,
and at the center of everything, we place the Cross.
The Cross—a man hanging there;
a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles.
(says St. Paul)—and it’s always been a little tricky for us, too.
What do we do, sisters and brothers,
with a God who bleeds?
What kind of savior, what kind of messiah, what kind of Liberator
ends up in complete powerlessness,
to a tree,
and nailed by the very powers he spent his short public life speaking out, against?
Often it seems the criminal from the other tree had it right:
“If you really are the Messiah, save us and save yourself.”
Don’t just sit there and watch.
Don’t just do nothing!
Don’t just do nothing.
At least Peter did do something.
When the guards came to incarcerate and torture Jesus.
At least Peter took a swing at the guard and chopped off a piece of the guy’s ear.
Sure, he didn’t “win the war,” and not even the “battle,”
but any stone thrown at Goliath
at least feels really good.
At least Peter did something appropriate when faced with the nearness of the cross.
But what do we do?
What do we do with the Cross? What do we do with a Crucified savior?
Each year at Lent, we struggle with this question.
Each year John calls us to a radical orientation and repentance through baptism.
Each year Jesus calls us to the same radical reorientation—and to faith in the Good News, as he begins his ministry with John the Baptist incarcerated.
“Repent,” he says, “and believe.” “In the Good News.”
Each year, we, with the disciples, descend the Mount of Transfiguration,
into the wilderness of the Temptation,
Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross,
calling his disciples to bear whatever crosses emerge in their pursuit of God’s Kingdom,
whatever crosses emerge in their pursuit of God’s Kingdom
where the last shall be first and the first shall be last, the lowly lifted, the powerful brought down;
What do we do with these Crosses?
What do we do with Jesus?
|first trinity processional cross|
A few of years back, we began lent, Cross at the center,
with the charge of “looking for crosses.”
Where are the crosses of this world today,
in or around us?
Where do we see oppression and suffering and loneliness?
When we take the time to look for these things,
where do we see them?
To refocus or reorient ourselves toward the Cross
is to refocus on the suffering and injustice in the world—the things we like to hide or cover up,
under Lower Wacker Drive, in abandoned warehouses, in the grave yards and gehennas on the edge of town, far away;
to refocus is, for us, to make seen the unseen,
the invisible visible.
Or as Rene Paquin once said after a sandwich delivery to the homeless with South Loop Campus Ministry,
“we spent tonight looking for people
we generally look through.”
We spent tonight looking for people
we generally look through.
This is a radical reorientation.
This is repentance!
|a "protestant cross" gifted to me by a fransiscan sister in west point, NE|
Another year, we started with a simple cross that had some decorative strips down the center—it was a cross a Sister (nun) had given me when I left West Point Nebraska—she told me “I wanted to get you a protestant cross.” That is, she thought, one without Jesus on it.
The strips down the center were reflective.
The challenge, that Lent,
was to focus not on the person we see in the reflection, but on the crosses all around.
Faith is not simply about “me and Jesus.”
Reflection on the “wondrous cross” is not just about what
“He did for Me.”
Rather to re-focus on the cross, to repent, is to refocus on the universal need for liberation, healing, hope, and Resurrection. As we affirm the need, we shift our focus from inward to the outward. With the Creed, we hope, we yearn, we “look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world [to come].”
We un-focus from from the beautifully fixating narcissistic pool, and suddenly we see the crosses all around us.
I’m wondering if we might nuance this even a little more,
or even re-frame the Lenten call to reorientation and repentance.
I wonder, this year,
if the mirror in the cross,
(the mirror that almost needs to be there as a reminder)…
I wonder if the mirror might not be embedded in the cross, for us to avoid—freeing ourselves from self in order to love others in a resurrecting way,
I wonder, instead, as we begin, if the mirror might not be embedded in the cross,
but rather, the cross might be placed right in the middle of the mirror.
Not a self at the center we need to shift focus from,
but rather a self with a cross at the center,
a cross we often do everything we can to deny, to hide, to cover up, to avoid.
Maybe once a year we get some ashes put there.
But generally, we don’t like to color the cross in,
to look at it or acknowledge it…
|my attempt at making a cross-centered mirror. |
it is actually pretty powerful in real presence.
I wonder, in this season of introspection, and yearning,
reorientation and repentance,
we might better see the crosses embedded at our center,
the crosses within,
the crosses we bear—most of them are not a result of the pursuit of God’s kingdom, not “the cross we bear as we follow” but simply the result of living in a fallen world:
estrangement and oppression as the result of our actions, sure.
But also the result of actions done to us—
and the result of simply existing in a broken place.
In us is the cross:
loneliness, death, brokenness, shame, a feeling of godforsakenness,
in us is the cross:
the capacity to crucify.
In us is the cross, as it is in every human.
This year, I wonder if the cross should really be embedded in the mirror…
A call to reorientation - from the self we project, from the mask we wear, to a deep look at the self we are…
the times when we see these crosses in us,
I mean, really see them,
the times we “cry out”
whether the cry is
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,”
“Help. I am alone. I can’t do this on my own,”
“Help. I am alone.”
by the way, I wanted to share tis story as a quick aside about loneliness.
St. John Chrysostom preached about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness about 1,600 years ago, and when he did, he said this: He said, “You see how the Spirit led him, not into a city or a public arena, but into a wilderness. In this desolate place, the Spirit extended the devil an occasion to test him, not only by hunger, but also by loneliness, for it is there most especially that the devil assails us, when he sees us left alone by ourselves. In this same way did he also confront Eve in the beginning, having caught her alone and apart from her partner.”
there is something about being alone that tempts us to believe the Devil’s lies:
that we are alone, that Crucifixion lasts forever.
That things will never change.
That you’re really not a child of God.
That because you said or did or believed this or that or the other thing that “man you’re screwed, you are beyond God’s love…”
It’s when we are alone that the Devil often attacks us…
Oddly, the times when we see these crosses in us, I mean, really see them,
the times we “cry out”
whether the cry is “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,”
“Help. I am alone. I can’t do this on my own,”
I need you people, the body of Christ, crucified and beaten down as it might be,
Because sometimes, somehow,
in the act of gathering, and Word, in the act of communing together, with one another, even just acknowledging one another.
“Hello.” “Peace be with you.”
Sometimes, somehow, in the act of confessing our crucifixes, and our crucifying,
somehow, sometimes, we become transformed,
we the body of Christ, sacred, and beaten down,
holes in hands and sides, yes.
but Resurrected, or resurrecting,
a living testimony
to the Transfiguration and Resurrection
of the crucified God,
of the Cross.