Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blog # 443 What did Jesus say and do, and Why?

 Blog # 443 What did Jesus say and do, and Why?

             Use  your imagination for a moment...We are in South Dakota. It is two days before the primaries.  We are in the same room.  One man, who hopes to be President of our nation some day, is speaking. It is not the same experience for everyone in the room.                

              One person is hard of hearing and can hardly follow the candidate's line of reasoning. That person's experience tends to be one of irritation, anger, and discomfort.  Another person is exhilarated by the speaker's wit and wisdom. The speaker is assured of that person's vote.  Someone else never has agreed with the speaker's particular plan of action and does not do so now.  One less vote for the  speaker.  The speaker's mother is present, together with his wife and their children.  The experience is a very special one for them. One of the speaker's close confidants who also feels qualified to fill the office of Secretary of State thinks the speech is a winner. By now you probably got the point I was trying to make. The same sound, the same room, the same occasion was not the same experience for everyone in the room.

               Nor is life. Nor is the Bible. Nor is Lent.  Throughout the nation and the world millions of  Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and others will hear the same passages of the  Bible that we Catholics will use in our liturgical worship during the Sundays of Lent. It will not be the same experience for all.  This is not necessarily bad.  The experience is a rich one and has more in it than any of us could gather all at once on a single occasion.

               But to be a deaf person at the political rally or to fall asleep during the speech is to miss the point of the experience.  I think it might be so for someone who enters into Lent unprepared.  If we are bored with an experience, fail to recognize or understand the meaning of it, or our part in it, we tend to fall asleep, or experience it as a burden rather than a value, a joy, or a blessing.  Hearing the Scriptures proclaimed in our presence and the broader experience of Lent could be such for some.  At times when I notice someone in church yawning or gazing off into space during the reading of the
Scriptures I think this might be true for that person. 

                Though the arguments and the line of reasoning in the political speech may not be altogether clear or to our liking, we can be fairly sure the purpose of the rally and the goal of the speaker is known. It seems to me this may not be the case with regard to the purpose of Lent and the goal of God and the Church inviting us to come together and share this particular extended experience which we refer to as Lent.  I do not think we should take it for granted that everyone knows and is deeply and in a practical way aware of what the experience of Lent is about. At least there should be no harm in asking the question : do I know?

                  I used to have a very old book that was of particular interest to me each year at the beginning of Lent.  The title of the book was 'The Lenten Manual and Companion for Passion Time and Holy Week'.  Beneath the title in smaller print were these words: "Now is the acceptable time.  These are the days of salvation."

                    The Lenten Manual was published in New York City in the year 1846, just before the Civil War. The quotation is from St. Paul's second letter to the people of Corinth, Greece ( 2 Cor. 6:2).  Paul was martyred in Rome sometime around the year 63.  In Cor. 6:1, immediately before the quotation above, and in order to clarify and enhance its power St Paul says: " As your fellow workers we beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For He says "In an acceptable time I heard  you, on a day of salvation I have helped you."  This reference is to Isaiah 49: 8, dating back toward the end of the Babylonian exile. (538 BC).  The quotation extends far back into our religious tradition and across a vast geographical expanse!
            One of the favorite hymns used each year at the beginning of Lent begins "This is our accepted time, this is our salvation". It throws light upon the purpose of Lent and is a key to answering the question as to whether or not we know what Lent is about.  The crucial words in the quotation from St. Paul are now and salvation.  Now refers to place as well as to time, to Babylon, 528 BC, Corinth, first  Century, New York City 1856, and Cincinnati, 2015. Salvation refers to God's plan for all people. ( Jn.13: 17:  1 Tim. 2: 4).  It is a plan for all people to know God, to love God, and to be loved by God.

               Love unites.  Whatever separates people interferes with love.  We cannot be united with someone we do not know. We do not love someone we do not choose to love. So with God and God's love. The plan, God's love, is not known or consciously experienced when and where God is not known and loved. Ignorance and sin are the enemies of God's love, wherever, whenever, in and by whomever, whether it be in suffering, pain, joy, or pleasure 

                Lent is the process and experience of discovering  more perfectly all of this and of saying yes again to all of it. Only in Jesus is it realized perfectly. In His obedient death and glorious resurrection His human love for God and God's divine love for Him is perfect.  Lent then is about Jesus, what He did and why. But it is also about us. We are invited to believe in Him, and united to Him through faith, in Baptism, to share His love for the Father and for all people.  Lent is about Good Friday and Easter in the here and now of our everyday lives, 2015.      

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Here is a little humor for  anyone who  might think we cannot smile again until Lent is over.

Patient: "Doctor!  Doctor!  I keep thinking there are two of me!"  Doctor: "I'll take you one at a time."

Patient: " Doctor! Doctor! I think I need glasses."  Doctor: " You surely do. This is a fish and chips shop!"

Patient: "Doctor!  Doctor! I keep thinking I am invisible."  Doctor: " Who said that?"

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