The Rev. Janice Ford
The Church of the Reconciliation (Episcopal)
5 North Main Street, Webster, MA www.reconciliationweb.org
Last week Christians everywhere celebrated Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of the church season of Lent which lasts forty days and ends with Easter. When I was a child, I was told that I should give up something I enjoyed during Lent. This was the way I could show God that I was truly sorry for my sins, and that I was willing to make some sacrifice to God for them. As I got older I recall thinking that God probably didn’t care whether I gave up candy or gum for forty days as much as my dentist did. As my faith grew, I began to realize that God was calling me—and everyone—to observe Lent a bit differently, and that is what I share with you now.
Lent is a time for acknowledging our shortcomings and the things in our life that separate us from God. It is a time to “go into the desert” as Jesus did, to think, pray, read Scripture, and examine our human weaknesses. Jesus was able to resist the temptations of the Evil One during his forty days in the wilderness, but I know that I probably won’t be as successful. The good news is that God understands. God knows that I will probably mess things up, but God still loves me for trying.
In addition God asks that I focus on what I can do, especially when it comes to helping others. In other words, rather than showing my love for God by giving something up, I should show my love by doing something for others. There is so much work to do in this world—especially at a time when people seem to be at their wits end just trying to get from one day to the next. We should be asking ourselves—even when we, too, are having difficulties in life—“What can I do to help so-and-so? How would God want me to respond to this person’s troubles?” There is always something we can do for others. It does not have to be anything really big or costly. It can be providing a listening ear, or just being with someone (we call that being truly present with someone). When we turn away from helping others, we turn away from God. Jesus was pretty clear about that. “Whatsoever you do unto others, you do unto me.” (Matthew 25:45)
There are still many Christians who choose to fast and/or make physical sacrifices during Lent, and they are most certainly blessed for doing so. However, I think there needs to be more. We cannot be Christians in solitude. Being a Christian, by its very nature, mandates being in communion with one another. We are the Body of Christ, and every member of the Body needs to be working with and for the others so that we remain healthy in the eyes of God.
We may go into the “desert” alone during Lent in order to truly examine our lives and our relationship with God, but when we emerge each day we should be ready and willing to share ourselves with others. This is exactly what Jesus did during his time in the desert, and this is how we can honor his amazing love and sacrifice.