Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
This coming week is the beginning of Lent. It’s been mildly amusing hearing pastors wonder whether they need to adjust their plans this year, since Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day and the Western Day of Resurrection falls on April Fools’ Day. (The Orthodox Church celebrates Easter on April 8th.) I know of several churches who will hold their Ash Wednesday service in the evening; I thought some might consider moving it to earlier in the day, so folks can take their ashen foreheads out to Valentine’s dinner. Millason Dailey mentioned that last year, Calvary Presbyterian in South Pasadena held their Ash Wednesday service VERY early in the morning. They had a terrific idea to hold a Mardi Gras party at a local restaurant late at night, and then at midnight they walked to the church to commemorate Ash Wednesday.
Celebrating the party nature of Mardi Gras right before the beginning of Lent reminds me of the many ways the Bible warns us about the “shiny objects” of the world distracting us from the profound connection of faith and obedience that God calls us to. For some of us, it is easy to get distracted by our culture of materialism and self-indulgence, especially in affluent societies like the United States. Because of this, many practice some form of fasting and self-denial for Lent. But we are reminded that God does not want a show of sacrifice as much as our commitment to follow God’s will for justice and care for the hungry and the oppressed:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:6)
Each year, the PC(USA) produces a Lenten devotional. You can purchase the 2018 version, focusing on the prophets and Jesus as bearers and the fulfillment of God’s will for justice and restoration, at the newly-consolidated PCUSA Store here. There are certainly countless opportunities for our churches, as the body of Christ in the world, to call for and live into Jesus Christ’s ministry of justice, restoration, and reconciliation. Just as we can point to the empty nature of worldly self-indulgence, if we honestly assess our brokenness and need for grace, we can appreciate the miracle of Christ’s victory over death, knowing that God will go to any length to save us even from disasters of our own making. So as we enter into the season of Lent, as we contemplate the great gift of Jesus being willing to give his all for our sake, perhaps we can adopt Lenten practices not only of sacrifice but also identifying ways we can further Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
As an example, the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has been emotional for some of us. There have been hopes for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and I imagine that the idea of reconciliation in Korea is not just a geopolitical act but also a family one, including for many Korean Christians. You may know that the Presbyterian Church in Korea started over 130 years ago, mostly in the north, centered in Pyongyang. But many (or most) Korean Christians had to flee to South Korea to avoid persecution. So many of our Christian Korean brothers and sisters have family roots in North Korea. Following Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s saving will for Israel, the Presbyterian/Reformed Church in Scotland, the United States, Taiwan, Korea, and elsewhere helped to support the cause of sovereignty for people who faced oppression from outside forces. I believe that this yearning for restoration of nation, church, and family is strong in the heart of Korean Presbyterians, and I pray for the shalom that comes when God’s saving will is realized. I pray that God shows us how we all may be reunited, in spite of past hurts and threats of violence, through the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding.
So as we enter into the season of Lent, may we all see God’s light even in times of darkness, and may we also resist the shiny objects of the world, that we may hold to the eternal power of God’s grace, for ourselves, for our families, our churches, even to all the nations.