The Lentiest–A Meditation for Palm Sunday 2020

This is the lentiest Lent that I ever lented.

Today is Palm Sunday — the paradoxical day when we cry out in joy “Hosanna” but also cringe at the cross looming on Friday. It is the last Sunday of Lent, but also the beginning of Easter week.

Ash Wednesday seems like a whole other universe, that cold winter’s night when we gathered and spoke of our own mortality — ‘From ashes you came, to ashes you shall return’ and promised to follow Jesus on the lonely path of prayer and devotion. We started our fast by faith, not knowing where it would lead us.

There is nothing quite like a global pandemic to get your attention on the issues of mortality. People’s lives are in jeopardy. Medical supplies are running out. The world is shut down. People are afraid. This new reality focuses our prayers. We started praying for Wuhan. Then we prayed for Italy. Then Spain. Some of us prayed for Iran because the news looked like they got hit harder than admitted. Then we prayed for Washington State — that hit close to home. Now we pray for New York, where doctors, nurses, and all hospital personnel put their own lives at risk everyday to save others. And bodies are being stored in cooling trucks because there is no room in the morgue.

We are driven to ours knees in prayer for our communities for the virus to pass without fatalities, and that it passover us.

From ashes we came. To ashes we return.

Lentish in the extreme.

The question of Lent is how do we fill our lives with meaning between the ashes.

The quest of Lent is to live a life dedicated to God in such a way that makes the world better. This is what we will be judged on in eternity. This is the call of Lent — to draw closer to God in Christ because the world we live in, though important, is not the place where we find ultimate meaning. We are passing through. Our citizenship is elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is here in this place where we learn the secrets to the next: the fulfillment of sacrifice, the work of love, the joy of service, the power of truth, and meaning of hope.

Lent calls us to fast — depriving our body and our minds of normal, everyday comforts so we can focus upon Christ. This fasting is not a punishment but a process for controlling our appetites with discipline. Normally we do this by depriving our body of sugar, chocolate, bread, entertainment or something banal. This year, the fasting was abrupt and involuntary; fasting was hoisted upon faithful and faithless alike.

We were deprived of our social interactions and forced to face ourselves and our families. Do you think the Lord might be teaching us something spiritual here?

We were deprived of basic material goods we take for granted. No longer were people clamoring for the latest gadget but the most important thing on people’s minds was toilet paper. Is it possible there is something spiritual the Lord is teaching us?

Milk, rationed; the meat aisle was depleted. There is no flour on the baking aisle, either. So very lenty.

I don’t mean to be too over-the-top, but you’ll pardon me for thinking the Lord said to all of us, ‘Yeah, you could do without for a little while.’

The lentiest Lent that I ever lented.

The Lenten/Easter cycle is always in parallel with the Exodus/Passover narratives both theologically and temporarily, as they fall about the same time. Anyone who ever doubted God could bring the powerful Egyptian Empire to its knees by controlling the water, the livestock and the weather should observe how the world has buckled. I am not saying God brought about COVID-19 as a plague. I am saying life teaches lessons about reality.

Lent is about the power of God and spiritual strength. Though these times are hard, and this Lenten season is unique and will forever in our lives be remembered as the year without Easter, perhaps it will be the most significant and spiritually meaningful Easter. The reason is simple. Lent is that wonderful annual remembrance to prioritize what matters and to cut away those things which do not.

The lentiest Lent I ever lented will produce the easteriest Easter I ever eastered. Amen.

FAT TUESDAY

Fat Tuesday actually came early for the staff at FBC yesterday.  Traditionally it is on Fat Tuesday that we burn the previous years fronds from Palm Sunday.  We store them in the garage and pull them out and light them in the parking lot.  The ash is then used in the Ash Wednesday service the next evening.  For more on Ash Wednesday and Lent and why we observe it at FBC, click here.

But this year we did it a day early because we all were here at the office anyway so Pastor Kendall, Tiffany, and the amazing Bonnie and I crammed them and burned them.

IT REALLY STINKS
IT REALLY STINKS

You don’t see me in the photo, because I am taking the picture.  You will notice that all three of them are holding their noses.  That is because they (they being the burning fronds not the three of them) really, really, really stink and the odor is pungent and stays with you all day long.  I had to air out my coat last night.

The way we do it is we take a metal coffee can and smash as many of them down into it as possible and then light them on fire.  Then we smash more of them into the fire.  It takes about 25-30 minutes because the fronds almost always have been coated with some kind of fire retardant when we purchase them so they don’t want to burn easily, but once they do, once it catches and gets hot–look out!  Last year one of our pastors burned off his eyebrows and mustache.  One year I tried to bake them in the oven to get a harder char and a firmer ash, but that didn’t work too well.  Those things stink enough, but when you bake them they smell like another kind of green grass that people turn to smoke.

After the fronds burn down, we let it set for two or three hours to cool down and then the can is safe enough to handle and the ash can be put into bowls or “plated” for the Wednesday night service.

My other tradition on Fat Tuesday is to eat tacos.  Tonight I will make my wonderful Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts delicious tacos, guacamole, refried beans, lazy enchiladas, served with chips and lots of iced tea.  Then the next day we begin our Lenten fast.  We decided last night what we would fast this year.  I am not telling you, because it is our family’s vow and if we share it, then, well, we lose something (Matthew 6:16-18) of the spiritual vitality that goes with fasting.

HOLY WEEK REFLECTION

Yesterday in our Palm Sunday service my oldest daughter performed a monologue I wrote.  She did such a wonderful job with it.    The piece is a reflection of Holy Week based on the Gospel of John.  The Fourth Gospel is the one I’ve been working through during Lent and will also spend time with on Easter and afterward.  I thought I would post it here as many of us work this week to stay focused on the sacred time we are engaged in. 

For three years Jesus had tried to tell people about how to be spiritually healthy.  He had used metaphor after metaphor after metaphor.  “It’s like being born again,” he’d told the old religious leader.  “Are you thirsty?  It’s like drinking water” he told a marginalized woman in a male dominated world.  “Can you imagine eating food that came from God?  That’s exactly what it is like,” he told people in a synagogue.  “It’s like you were blind, but suddenly you see.  It’s like sheep that follow the one Good Shepherd.”

He tried every analogy known to man and God:  Wind, fruit, trees, servants, you name it—he tried it.  But the people still were not able to put their mind around what he was talking about.  He so badly wanted them to get it, but they hadn’t just yet.

Standing outside of Jerusalem he knows time is just about up.  The fullness of time ticked his whole life and now the tocks are louder as his hour is at hand.  His mission on planet earth was not only to teach the ways of God and of spiritual truth, but to embody spiritual truth.  The biggest part of that spiritual truth is sacrifice and atonement. The time for him to die at the hands of religious people and politicians is here.  They would not take his life.  He would give it.

Soon the water would be bloody.  Talk of being born again would become, “It is finished.”  The food from God would mutate into vinegar on a sponge and the taste of a bleeding, battered jaw.  The one who opened the eyes of the blind will now have his eyes beat swollen shut.  The good shepherd will, like sheep, be led to the slaughter.  No more talk of luscious fruit bearing trees; soon only the tree of pain would matter.  The only fruit now is oozing from underneath a thorny crown.

But the wind, the wind still blows.  It blows across Jesus face as he gazes at Jerusalem.  It blows through the Temple courtyard and down the crowded streets of the city at Passover.  It blows in the coming day—through a window in the upper room, in Pilate’s tussled hair, across Jesus hanging body, and in the midst of a tomb.  The wind blows and the Spirit of God descends upon his people and finally, slowly, they begin to understand and know what Jesus had been talking about all that time.