Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

Years ago, in the now sadly defunct Re:generation Quarterly, the ever delightful L. Penseur had a Christmas article wherein he had something rather compelling to say about that OTHER great feast, namely Easter.

Well, it’s the season to be jolly, of Bing Crosby crooning, “Chestnuts roasting o’er an open fire,” neighborhood competitions to develop the most garish and kilowatt-intensive house lighting display, the very refreshing beverage of hot Tom and Jerry, and breakfast with Santa. And, to round things off, the Christmas issue of some evangelical publication is out—I name no names—which deplores all of the above, decries the commercialization of Christmas, proclaims the substitution of Claus for Christ, et cetera, and calls for Christians to fall back from the beleaguered outpost of Christmas and retreat under heavy marketing fire to our trenches and foxholes around Fort Easter.

I haven’t been too thrilled with the whole strategic-withdrawal-to-Easter idea since I saw my first human-sized pink inflatable bunny tied down on a lawn beneath an Easter egg tree. Zut alors, I thought. Earthquakes and brilliant flashes of light, hard-bitten veteran legionnaires fleeing for their lives, shining beings rolling around economy-sized pieces of granite, hell shaking to its foundations, and a battered, desecrated, tortured, and absolutely dead body getting up and walking out of its tomb … from this we get a pink inflatable bunny? If you can make that kind of mental, emotional, and intellectual transition, are there any kinds of transitions you can’t make? Easter is not as safe as the opponents of Christmas commercialism make it out to be.

And that, my friends, about sums up the situation here at Fort Easter. We are A.) besieged from outside by the pink plastic bunny barrage and B.) facing an equally severe peril from within by members of the team who just don’t see why Easter is such a big deal.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take point A first. Run a Google image search on Easter and tell me how many of the first twenty images have a religious component. . . I can’t stand the suspense. I’ve done it for you. There are no religious depictions in the first twenty images, 0 % if your brain rolls that way. The first religious image doesn’t show up until #24.  Out of first one hundred images only 5 have any religious component. An image of the resurrected Jesus doesn’t even make the top 100 though Robert Pattinson leering over some eggs clocks in at #71.

Run the same search for Passover. Compare and contrast averages.  Now tell me who’s winning the Fight of Fort Easter in the popular mind.

But the popular culture is as the popular culture does. I understand completely understand why a secular culture finds “a battered, desecrated, tortured, and absolutely dead body getting up and walking out of its tomb” inconceivable, disturbing, or even downright offensive and so hides the vision with inflatable lawn ornaments. The Cross is a scandal to be sure, but the Resurrection is even more offensive.  It’s bad enough that the Son of Man let himself be tortured and killed like a common criminal, but the man didn’t even have the decency to STAY DEAD.  Unnatural!

Unfortunately many who claim the name “Christian” feel essentially the same way, and I don’t know quite what to do with that.   Easter is the sine qua non of Christianity.  Sweet little Baby Jesus is marvelous; battered Jesus on the cross is awe-inspiring; but the resurrected Jesus….He is beyond adjectives. He is who He is.

What does this mean for we Marthas of the world who are fighting gamely in the inner redoubt with a soup ladle and Kitchen Aid mixer?

My friends, we can’t take the heat; we need to get out of the kitchen.  Let’s put down that Kitchen Aid and get ours Marys on.  That is the purpose of Lent: so we can get as Maryed up as a Martha can be. (Or rather as Marthaed as Martha can be, because it was not Mary nor Lazarus who made this great confession.) Make time during these days of the Triduum to follow the sacrifice.

If you’re really disciplined, you can ponder the great mystery in the quietness of your heart.  Being weak fleshed and willed, I need the external discipline of attending a service.  Fortunately the Church provides for the weak among us.  Any liturgical church should be offering at least a service on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and may even have Easter Vigil. Any Christian church worthy of the name should be doing something special on Sunday. Be there.  Behold the man reveal himself as God. Feast upon the Sacrament.

Restored; get back to the kitchen and feast!  Feast boldly!  Feast because we no longer matter; Christ has folded us into himself.  Feast because we are nothing and yet we are invincible. Acknowledge with your whole being the joyous and surpassing mystery: we are dust and to dust we shall return, but beautiful will be the recreation of dust.

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IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg�d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ; ’tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

— Robert Herrick

The delightful thing about quoting other people, particularly poets (and I don’t know quite what is going on here, but I seem to have a thing for the poet Herrick) is that they put these things so WELL. After that little masterpiece above, do I really need to say anything more about Lent?

Ah but I will..bit by little bit..and first, the big one, fasting and abstinence.

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The Great Dust Up

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Today millions of Christians will hear those words said to them as priest, minister, or pastor imposes ashes upon their foreheads to symbolize their repentance for their sins. For that is the discipline of Lent (from the German Lenz meaning “Spring”), repentance, as well as prayer, almsgiving, and ( more on this later) fasting.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

As a child I hated Lent. It was no fun. It was gloomy; it was dark. Fun bits of the liturgy were missing. (“Alleluia” and other phrases of praise such as “Glory be to God on High” are omitted from the liturgy  during Lent.) There were no sweets. Lent told me life was dreary, hard, and sad.  It told me I was nothing, and I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with my favorite season of the year.  Lent was nothing like Spring, the embodiment of joy. The only good thing about Lent was that it was followed by my favorite holiday. And it made me really, really want Easter to come. So when Lent came, I gritted my teeth and went through.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

But when I was a child, I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. Now that I am an adult, I have come to (Can one say it?) enjoy Lent. There is something restful in realizing that I am dust, and to dust I will return. There is something special about a season that make us realize that while we are  in the world we are not of the world even though we are of earth, for we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

When I was about 12, I started embracing the disciplines of Lent.  I’ve kept them better some years than others. I never keep any of them well, but  the older I grow (and I do it seems grow only older) the more I appreciate not only the necessity of Lent but its blessedness. So I look forward to hearing tonight as the pastor’s finger crosses my forehead with the startling soft ash of burnt palms, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

May you, my fellow dust bunnies, have a blessed Lent.

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