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Guidance for the Lenten Journey

By The Rev. James D. Findlay

James FindlayAfter the bright light of the Transfiguration at the close of Epiphany, Ash Wednesday and the temptation of Jesus at the opening of Lent, we now find ourselves in the midst of 40 days of Lent.  Tradition invites us into sacred discipline, inward focus and contemplation.  Each of us experiences this holy season in our own way.  Some engage in regular Scripture readings; others in reconsideration and reconfiguration of the actions and rhythms in our daily lives; still others set aside special times and places for meditation, prayer and growing closeness with God.  However we live this out, God always blesses us – and often in unexpectedly fruitful ways.

As we continue through these 40 days of sacred desert dryness, we face ourselves in God’s Presence as Jesus did in his own wilderness time.  The texts appointed for the season are part of the divine blessing we receive.

The Old Testament readings for the weeks ahead describe sacred gifts given to our forebears in faith who were in the midst of their own spiritual journeys.  Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. They are promised many descendants as they wander together, without a permanent home (Gen 17:1-16).

The Ten Commandments are given to the Israelites as they sit at the foot of the Holy Mountain, on their way from slavery toward freedom (Ex 20:1-17).  The bronze serpent is erected in the Israelite camp after they murmur about their struggles and become ill, providing healing to all who “look and live” (Num. 21:4-9).

Jeremiah brings word of a New Covenant – but the people remain in exile and uncertainty (Jer. 31:31-34).

The Psalm texts of the season all sing praise to God for Creation, Torah and Healing power.  Yet this is only known after affliction has been experienced and healed, sin confessed, troubles faced and overcome.  As we continue our journeys, these narratives are gifts of promise, care and guiding admonition as we face our own dryness, incompletion and uncertainty.

The season’s Gospel texts bring our attention to promise and delayed fulfillment, glorification and endurance of suffering.  In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus rebukes Peter for suggesting that he should not suffer, calls all his followers to follow him to the Cross, and says that they must expect to “lose the world” if they wish to “gain their own souls.”

In John 2, Jesus finds economic activity in the Temple which exploits worshippers, turns over the merchants’ tables, decries the sacred space becoming a marketplace and promises to destroy and rebuild the edifice in three days (which the narrator tells us symbolizes Jesus’ body experiencing death and resurrection).

In John 3, the bronze serpent again appears as a metaphor for Jesus’ own lifting up.  Divine love, salvation, and judgment are all woven together in the meaning of Jesus’ person.

In John 12, as Greeks arrive to visit him, Jesus speaks of his glorification, and he directly faces his own physical death.  In each of these texts, Jesus experiences debate, confrontation, challenge, or uncertainty – yet looks forward to ultimate restoration and triumph.  These, too, are guiding words and images for us in this season of inward focus and reflection.

Suffering and struggle are at the center of every life dedicated to God’s justice and peace on Earth.   However, in the midst of these difficulties on our spiritual path we also experience a taste of divine glory.  Jesus and our Israelite ancestors walked the path of love, service, suffering, and spirit prior to us.  No matter how we experience these 40 days of testing and contemplation during Lent, God and the angels are with us (Mark 1:13).

As we journey further, believing in the divine light that shines upon us, we receive deeper and richer blessings.  We become children of light, whether the sacred times bring us trouble, assurance of glory, comforting light or darkness (John 12:27-28, 35-36).

May all of us continue in fruitful spiritual practice and experience a Holy Lent!

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Note from author: Please feel free to contact me via e-mail at sleight_of_time@yahoo.comI wish to engender a conversation among us about how the Word and Spirit are active in our lives, and how we might nurture these gifts further. I also am happy to work with groups and individuals on how to nurture the Word and Spirit among us. Please visit my Facebook Page at   www.facebook.com/pages/Spiritual-Accompaniment-Services/219750211459838  as another way of being in this sacred conversation. I look forward to hearing from many of you soon!

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