As the long Church Season of Epiphany comes to a close, we begin the Season of Lent this Wednesday evening, March 1st. In some of our RI Conference UCC churches there will be an Ash Wednesday service where ashes are marked (imposed) upon the forehead (or on the back of the hand) in the shape of a cross along with these spoken words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” – a sobering reminder of both the limits of our life on earth and perhaps how much we need to do while we are here. Lent continues for a total of 40 days (except for Sundays which are considered “little Easters”).
Lent offers us many options – it invites us to remember the short ministry of Jesus as well as his eventual final journey to Jerusalem, it moves us thru his final week on this earth as a human being, and his death on a cross and his subsequent resurrection on Easter morning.
Lent offers us many options – for some it is a time to “re-boot” our faith, for others it invites us into a new discipline (fasting from something or adding something new to our spiritual routines); for still others Lent pushes us to re-focus and perhaps to wrestle with some important questions. For many of our churches here in RI there are special Lenten programs, meals, and conversations. I will read the book by James H. Cone entitled The Cross and the Lynching Tree and join in the Lenten discussion on this book at Beneficent Church on Wednesday evenings from 7-8 pm (right across from my apartment at Beneficent House.)
In his annual Lenten message, Pope Francis has written, "Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience."
The Christian writer Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking suggests the following about Lent: “In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year's income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year's days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus.” Buechner goes on to suggest these questions that might help us focus this Lent:
If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn't, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo?
Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
Pope Francis and Buechner both challenge us to make good use of our time this Lenten season. I hope you will consider what this Lent might offer you and how you will live into these 40 days ahead.
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