I was going to issue an invitation. But invitations don’t convey the urgency required. So, I am issuing a challenge. I challenge readers to begin now to prepare for Lent. Ash Wednesday is March 6; Easter, April 21. I know. It’s not even Thanksgiving… or Advent. Lent? Now?
Let Lent, 2019, be a season of deep examination and repentance. Not only for ourselves but for creation! But that discipline will take some time. Starting now!
Prepare. This blog has cited the principles of Professors Barbara Rossing and David Rhoads. The first principle is to learn about the degradation of God’s creation. There are countless resources for background, including those on the MNO website (http://mnosynod.org/eco-reformation-project/). But to make this season of repentance relevant to your congregation, explore the environmental issues in your own context. Begin locally. Orient yourself to the changes happening in your region and identify potential resources you will need to bring on board.
Partner. You can’t know everything. Who are the community resources that can bring the social, scientific, political and economic concerns and possibilities into focus? Engage them early, not only to clarify your direction but to strengthen your planning. To involve the community in reflection, examination and visioning will deepen the experience for those in your congregation and beyond.
Plan. What will be the scope of your Lenten experience? What can you bring into worship? And what about learning – with a variety of audiences and settings? If we are truly seeking repentance, then an action component is required also. Lent is more than confession, more than contrition; metanoia involves a change of heart, mind and behavior.
Return to me with your whole heart. Let this year’s season of repentance seek a return not only of individuals but of creation.
Remember you are dust…to dust you shall return. In previous Lenten observances the focus has been on the mortification of the flesh. But, from an ecological perspective, what would it mean to suggest that we are made of stardust? To remember our origins in the constantly renewing and evolving creation… and to remember our destiny as a return to that connection with all things …This Lent could emphasize the interconnection and interdependence of all things. And it would be quite appropriate to emphasize the systemic sin that is endangering Earth.
Let this Lenten observance examine the facts and be well founded in truth-telling. This could be a painful Lent, a bit like dying, if the truth-telling also required hard evidence of the destructiveness of our affluence and privilege. If there needs to be real change, it may be painful change as we surrender what we have enjoyed and transform our political and economic realities to new standards of justice and sustainability.
“What will you give up for Lent?” Something more than chocolate or coffee. Perhaps what is needed is more expensive food and clothing in order to provide more just wages for the laborers. Perhaps more expensive fuel as we shift to renewable energy. If the planet is to truly heal, certain expectations and behaviors may need to cease, not for a few weeks but for ever.
Let this be a season that seeks to recognize and obey God’s design and activity. Let this not be a time of blaming and finger-pointing, but a time of wondering. What if? It is not enough to proclaim the judgement of God without the announcement of a new vision, a new promise, a new creation.
Let this be a time not to mortify but to restore the dignity of individuals, of peoples, of species, of creation itself.
Rend you hearts, not your garments. Let this be a season that tears open and remains open. Let this not be a mere ritual but a true examination and a true turning, with a new heart for a new creation. This takes time. More than an Ash Wednesday or a Good Friday. More, in fact, than a mere forty days. But forty days is a beginning. And the beginning has some urgency.
But we are an Easter people. We celebrate the triumph of life seeking life. We celebrate more than a resurrection of the body, but the restoration of a new creation. To be restored to life and dignity is to be restored to our true selves, restored to paradise, restored to wholeness, intended from the beginning, extended to eternity.
We are dust. We are made of the same molecules and particles that have circulated through the ages of this planet and the ages of the stars. We are connected to all things. We share the origins. We share the suffering. We share the future. We are dust and to dust we shall return!
This Lent let those words be a promise of hope.
That’s the challenge. How will that challenge be taken up by you?