Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday 
"Until Death Do Us Part"

Today marks the beginning of Lent: the season of 40 days (not counting Sundays, roughly 6 weeks)  that precede Easter Sunday.  In the ancient and early Church it was a time for catechism: learning about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus (sort of like a membership class sort of thing).  Catechets, or faith students, would be baptized as the sun rose on Easter Sunday, thus joining the community of faith.

Over the years things changed and developed.  Lent has become a liturgical season, in which we prepare for Easter, remembering the cost, sacrifice and solidarity of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Catholic Church of the Medieval Ages it became a common practice for believers to give up things during Lent (such as fat, sugar, alcohol, etc.) to be mindful of what Jesus gave up to convince of God's radical life-transforming love.  Abstinence for these roughly 40 days came to be a practice of piety in a Christian world. But abstinence enforced by the Church or the State often led to excess, hence Mardi Gras, which detracts and distracts from what faith in Christ  is all about - living with faith every day.
Today we live in a post-Christian world, in which the words and life-example of Jesus of Nazareth are unknown, misunderstood, or not seen as coherent.  Many leaders teach that rather than abstain from things in our lives, we should ascribe to something, take on a new practice in order to not just remember, but to proclaim, deepen and mature our faith.  Such things to take on might include new prayer practices, trying got read the Bible daily, using money you'd spend on your daily latte to help others in need, or even trying to greet each person you see on the street with a smile, or don't play with or answer your smart phone while you wait in line at Trader Joe's - instead talk to someone in line near you; cook a good meal from all fresh things - taking the time to smell, touch, taste, and share it with someone else - it's an ordinary task that we ordinarily outsource to others.

Christianity proclaims the promise and passion of the incarnation - that God comes to us, that God is present in all of creation, that even the most mundane and unordinary parts of life are sanctuaries of God's extraordinary presence.  Rather than abstaining to force ourselves to remember Christ's passion and the pain to which God goes to pursue us, I further that it's more effective for us to ponder, appreciate, be present in the life that's around us in order to glimpse the life that God is calling us - and all the world - to know.

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