One of the seasons of the Way–the earliest name given to Christianity–is Lent. The season’s beginning is marked with a worship service known as Ash Wednesday. As the name suggests, ashes are central to the imagery and the ritual where the sign of the cross, put on the forehead with ashes, is a sign of our mortality. This is not a service everyone chooses to attend, for the focus is often inward, the worship prayerful, and the leaving in silence.
Yet, worship is a way to make you available to God. Sometimes it is in the quietness that God can most effectively speak.
My ponderings today come after attending a delightful Ash Wednesday service which, along with the usual scriptures from the Psalms, featured an image of a Phoenix (the mythical bird that becomes flame when it dies and is reborn out of his ashes). This image of resurrection led me to ponder about the faith of Jesus.
Pastors and theologians often talk about having faith in Jesus. Jesus is our Savior, the one sent to allow us to become close to God. In this theological imagining Jesus is a type of Intercessor, one who, like Moses, frees us from the slavery of sin and allows us access to God’s words and ways.
Given this vision, Lent regularly features an honest self examination to see where sin has a hold on us. Ash Wednesday is an occasion to read a familiar parable of Jesus about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. Both men come to pray. The Pharisee prays, “Thank God I’m not like that tax collector over there.” The tax collector prays, “Forgive me… for I am a sinner.” In his telling, Jesus makes the hated tax collector the hero, highlighting the humility necessary for one who wishes to truly know God. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the need for us to admit our sin in order for God to enter in. Continue on with this penitentiary practice for all of Lent and you have an experience that fits within the vision of the Council of Nicea (325 AD) where the Lenten season was established.
But the Bible provides more of a multifaceted voice than did the council that met so long ago. There is room to re-imagine Lent–these 40 days (not including Sundays)–before Easter as a time when we are called to a faith like Jesus. This theological imagining leads us not just to the cross but to the resurrection.
Three times in the gospel of Mark, Jesus says something like this…
“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mark 9: 31)
In all three times that Jesus talks about dying, the disciples choose to not understand.
In fact, when Jesus first says these words, Peter rebukes him, trying to stop what was to happen. And Jesus responds, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
The final reference to death and resurrection opens up a heated argument between the sons of Zebedee about who gets to sit on Jesus right when Jesus enters “into glory.” (Mark 10:35)
While the disciples couldn’t hear Jesus, because they were likely so afraid of losing the way they’ve come to experience God, perhaps we can.
Notice when Jesus speaks about his death, he also speaks of his resurrection.
This is the key to having the faith of Jesus.
Jesus never talks about his death without speaking about his resurrection. We might even speculate that Jesus kept going, kept doing the difficult things, because he believed in the resurrection.
To have the faith of Jesus, then, is to believe that, even when you are living in the ashes of what once was, resurrection is possible. And, to push it one step further, when you are heading into the fire because it is the way God has called you to go and even your friends sound like the enemy, go anyway, believing God will have the last word. Lent reminds us to stop playing it safe. It is time to let go of what we fear losing and instead follow the one voice that gives us life.
Such a faith did not make Jesus superhuman, unaffected by the hostility of those who would send the “King of the Jews” to the cross. Jesus still cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane for another way. Yet, Jesus’ faith allowed these words…”Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14: 36)
During this Lenten season, those of you who like to mark the season with a offering can still give up candy and eat fish on Fridays. But as you do, as those cravings come, use the feeling to allow your vision to go beyond your own failings. Look up! Listen. Listen carefully.
What is it God would have you do?