Monday, March 14, 2011

Why so much talk about Lent? Isn’t that just for the Catholics?

In showing my age, I can recall when I was in college before the internet, realizing I sound really old; the popular thing was “cliff note.” Cliff Notes were small yellow books that could be purchased that would summarize a classic piece of literature in about a hundred pages or so. In one night, a student, like me could read a classic, get the synopsis of the book, the main plot, brief character details, and the conclusion of the story. This was very convenient for the student. The night before read the cliff notes, take the test, and pass it. Now the cliff notes did not give all the information, which usually resulted in a low B or high C on the test, but for an unmotivated student with so many college social events and responsibilities, it worked out well. Cliff Notes were not necessarily cheating. It was just a short cut, which resulted in an average grade. I even shameless took a classic American literature class in which I received an A and did not read one of the books assigned; only the Cliff Notes. While I confess my sins now, it seemed to help me at the time.

Years later in my life, out of guilt, maturity, or curiosity, I went back and began to read the exact readings that were assigned in that class. I was amazed at what I missed. Rereading Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I missed Tom Sawyer is a saucy boy, a natural show-off, who likes to show his authority over the other boys. I missed the complexity of the relationships of his best friends include Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn. I was robbed the connection of my boyhood and his with Tom's infatuation with classmate Rebecca "Becky" Thatcher is apparent. As I reread it opened up the door for the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Tom is only a minor character, and is used as a foil for Huck, particularly in the later chapters of the novel after Huck makes his way to the Phelps plantation. Tom's immaturity, imagination, and obsession with stories put Huck's planned rescue of the runaway slave Jim in great jeopardy - and ultimately make it totally unnecessary, since he knows that Jim's owner has died and freed him in her will. Throughout that novel, Huck's intellectual and emotional development is a central theme, and by re-introducing a character from the beginning (Tom Sawyer), Twain is able to highlight this evolution in Huck's character. My life and soul was touched by Mark Twain words as I too grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River; no adventures, just concerts, walks, and hundreds of sunsets down on the bluff. All this was NOT reflected in the Cliff Notes.

The season of Lent can be like that for us too. Because of time, schedules, routine, commitments, and experiences we experience the Cliff Notes of lent. We know Christ’s passion story. The ashes of Ash Wednesday Service have along been washed off. We await the children walking down the isle with waving branches on Palm Sunday, regroup for Maundy Thursday service, then hope the church is full of Easter Sunday, and then off, hunt some eggs with the little ones, and finish it off with the family ham and potato salad. We’ve done this before, remember the Cliff Notes.

When we do the Cliff Notes of Lent, we miss more than we gain. Yet there is something significant missing if we only concentrate on celebration for these two Sundays. It is too easy and promotes much too cheap a grace to focus only on the high points of Palm Sunday and Easter without walking with Jesus through the gathering shadows of Maundy Thursday and the darkness of Good Friday. Lent is a way to recall a larger story than just celebration. It is a way to face the reality of the consequences of sin and the terrible toll it takes on the world. Lent calls us to examine our own lives with the prayer. The journey through Lent is a way to places ourselves before God humbled, bringing in our hands no price whereby we can ourselves purchase our salvation. It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before God, to strip ourselves bare of all pretenses to righteousness, to come before God in dust and ashes. It is a way to empty ourselves of our false pride, of our rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creatures, of our external piety that blinds us to the beam in our own eyes. Lent’s soul purpose is to strengthen the relationship with our self, God, and one another or we can just read the Cliff Notes.
Hope to see you soon, but until then take care of yourself and one another..
Peace & Grace,

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