I'm doing a lot of hemming and hawing about Lent today. OK, it's been more than just today, but when hot cup posted about a foiled Lenten plan it just got me going again.
I'm in that place where I think I'll take a crappy canned sermon over the void of ideas I'm having myself. I know I'd feel different as soon as it showed up in the mail, though. I know I want to do a series of some sort. I'm not feeling particularly tied to or excited about the lectionary, but I don't know what else I should do, what I need to do in this particular time, in this particular place.
I'm a little less traditional in my own beliefs and comfort with the language of Lent as a "journey to the cross." My theology of the cross has a lot less guilt and traditional atonement theory, so while it's important and part of the story that gets us to resurrection it's not so much of a highlight in my personal theology as say the empty tomb is. The cross says more to me about humanity than it does about God's grace. And when people talk about the empty cross vs. the cross with the body, it seems to me that they really want to talk about the empty TOMB and the full cross. Anyway, that's another post altogether. Yet it does get tot he heart of my struggle with preaching in Lent I think at some point in the history of the worship and the liturgical calendar Lent turned much more guilt-ridden than I think it was initially.
From what I remember from seminary and what I've been reading around this week and last, there were basically three different traditions that sort of turned into what we call Lent. One was an extended paschal observance that started at first a few days, then up to 40 days before Easter. The second was the final preparation of catechumenates for baptism. The third was a period of penance and self-examination for those who needed to reunite with the church, to recommit themselves to faith. It feels like if we're doing anything with Lent at all anymore we're turning it into an extended Good Friday, berating ourselves for all the horrible we do, instead of making it a period of good, focused work on transformation, of recommitting ourselves to practices of faith and spiritual disciplines that strengthen us as disciples of Christ and the people of God, culminating in the celebration of the resurrection, THE transformation of all transformation, the new life into which we are baptized.
I watched a documentary when I was at an Arts and Sabbath conference in Montreat, NC last fall. One of the artists (don't ask me who or when or what movie, I wasn't paying attention that well) said this, "Spring doesn't begin on the surface; it begins below...." That's what I think about Easter and, therefore, Lent. New life, renewed faith, doesn't begin at Easter. It starts earlier. It starts with the hard work of Lent, working before, working below. Something is happening before we get to that time of rebirth and resurrection, and THAT'S what I want to talk about in Lent. What has to happen to get us to Easter, to resurrection, to new life.
I've thought about trying to draw from the ancient Lenten spiritual practices - penance, almsgiving, fasting, etc - as springboards for sermons on transforming our lives as disciples. If I go this direction I'd like to open Lent up as a time that's not "just for Catholics" but celebrate (maybe that's not the best word) the ways it can enrich our lives of faith.
On another hand (it's not "the other" because I might come up with a third or fourth hand eventually, I'm not sure) I've been pushing pretty hard during this Epiphany about God's reversal of life as we know it, and the invitation to join where divine work is happening in the world. Epiphany has been our season of "God is on the loose" in the world. I've spent a lot of time naming the way God REALLY IS a part of the world. I've included invitations to join God out in the world (especially out of our church walls and the myth of needing prop up the institution) each week, but I'm beginning to think Lent should be about this more. It feels like Lent should be more nitty gritty about getting ourselves out there to follow.
Ideally, I'd like to find a way for these two ideas to intersect. Maybe they do. While the first feels more personal and the second more missional, I'd like for the personal to always be misisonal, so maybe I need to work on that. I sort of feel it. I think I can even connect some of the sermons I have delivered during Epiphany to spiritual disciplines or practices that support the way God is on the loose. Like last week I talked about how Jesus was on the loose proclaiming the message; this could be paired with a Lenten sermon (with example from the congregation for SURE) on giving testimony. Maybe the Epiphany sermon about casting out demons (naming evil) could be paired with one about acts of justice and solidarity. If there aren't an equal number I can add in ones that don't necessarily match up for with Epiphany sermons for disciplines of giving (a mid year stewardship sermon NEVER hurts), fasting, etc.
Hmmm....is something finally brewing here? Sometimes I need to just start writing about my struggle for the Spirit to start working something out. Maybe tomorrow or Thursday I can flesh it out a little more after I have sat with it a little more.