Lent used to be a big deal.
Granted, not as big a deal as Advent as we get ready for Christmas, but it still registered on our radar screen. Lent is those 40 days, not counting Sundays, between Ash Wednesday on one end and Easter on the other. It was and is to be time of preparation for the celebration of Easter. The early Christian community used Lent as a time to teach and instruct converts who were then baptized into the Christian community early on Easter Sunday morning. After Christianity became the recognized religion of the realm, Lent became a time penance and reflection and introspection. Still focused on getting ready for Easter.
It used to be you gave up something for Lent.
Meat. Wine. Sweets.
More recently some people have found it more meaningful to add something for Lent.
Reading the Bible or a daily reflection.
Daily or weekly acts of charity.
Additional or more intentional time set aside for prayer or meditation.
When I was a child our family always gave us some type of food for Lent setting aside the money we saved to be used as a part of our Easter offering.
Maybe Lent still is a big deal in some places for some people.
But those places and people are dwindling in number and size.
Yet, even in our busyness and our moving away from liturgical times like this, the Christian calendar and church bulletin still say Lent. And, Easter still awaits on the horizon. And, because for me, and I hope for you as well, Easter is about more than baskets and bunnies and the arrival of spring and has something to do with life made new and full and this promise of God we name as resurrection, Lent is worth paying attention to and Easter is worth getting ready for.
So, after a month of snow storms and changed plans and our trip to Nicaragua, I finally found myself with a few moments this week to think about Lent and to look ahead to Easter. And to ask myself where I was and how I was and what I needed to do so I was ready to stand here in this spot in front of all of you on Easter Sunday morning. As I often do as I try to get a sense of my own spirit and to plan for Sunday mornings, I flip through and read my Bible. This week I found myself drawn to two very different passages. The first is from the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Christian community in Corinth. In the midst of the struggles faced by that young Christian community seeking to embody and to live a different vision of what life and world might be like than the one offered by the accepted norms of the surrounding culture and by Pax Romana, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair.”
I think I found myself paying attention to this verse because I get the clay jars part.
Fragile. Chipped. Easily broken
The jar with duct tape over a hole.
Leaking, yet the only jar available for me to use.
Clay jars describe my life.
Some days more broken and chipped and leaking than on other days.
Yet every day, no matter the condition, with work to do. Living to do. Interactions with others. Every day with both responsibilities and opportunities. Some days I feel serviceable. Other days I am leaking like a sieve.
I have this treasure which is my life, my faith, my gifts, my convictions, my small glimpse of truth and of God’s vision for tomorrow, in this fragile, chipped, leaking clay jar which is my life.
We have this treasure in clay jars.
Then there was this other verse.
A counterbalance to the first.
From John’s Gospel where the author of the Gospel has Jesus saying:
“I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
Full. Rich. Meaningful. Purposeful.
Embracing deeply both joy and sorrow.
That sounds so different from the chipped, fragile, leaking clay pot of my life. But, somewhere, somehow wrapped up in that abundant life waits the promise of Easter.
And, maybe that is something of what Lent is about.
Living in that tension between those two verses.
Being honest about how we are.
And about what our lives look like and feel like.
Honest, at least with ourselves.
And, maybe, if we can, with the ones we love the most and who love us the most. Stripping away the the masks and the smiles and the expected perfection. The doing all we can to appear to others that we are anything, but fragile and chipped.
And, yet holding onto…
Not letting go of…
That promise of Jesus of what God intends for us and for all.
Now this is the part of the sermon when I am suppose to wisely tell you how to do that. How to live creatively and well in that tension. Or, what the three steps or the five steps or the twelve steps are to help you get you from here to there.
From chipped to polished.
From broken to whole.
From leaking like sieve to perfectly put together.
So, if that is your expectations, my apologies.
I can’t do that.
I am trying to figure it out just like you are trying to figure it out. But, if I can’t tell you the steps, maybe I can offer you some clues in the form of reminders then we can work together on figuring it out.
First, there is abundant life.
I don’t know exactly what it is or what it feels like, but sages and saints to say nothing of Jesus remind me it is there. And so I do my best to remember. I do my best to remind myself to aim in that direction even if I don’t exactly know the way. I hold onto that hope and promise which is more than optimism or wishful thinking or naivete.
Second, abundant life is plural, not singular.
My abundant life has something to do with your abundant life.
Somehow I think we figure it out together.
As a community.
As God’s people doing our best to find our way.
Third, gratitude has something to do with it.
The more we are able to live saying Thank you…
The more gratitude shapes and drives our daily living…
The closer we get to knowing and living what Jesus was talking about.
Finally, there is love.
I hesitate to use this word because it too easily gets misused or misconstrued. Yet here it is the only word to use. Love as intimacy and honesty which, each day, pushes deeper and further into the wonderful mess of the world as it is which God has entrusted to our care and keeping. Love in action which expresses itself as compassion and justice.
So, here we are in the middle of Lent.
With clay jars.
Chipped. Fragile. Leaking.
Doing our best to find our way to that promised Life meant for us and for all.