“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again". - John 12:27-28
Like most spiritual initiatives, Lent always gets off to a running start, especially when there's an Ash Wednesday worship service offered at church. The real test - and I use the word deliberately - is the next day, or two, or three.
The danger is that Lent can so easily turn out much like the ill-fated women's downhill ski competitor I watched during yesterday evening's Olympics coverage:
- She practiced
- she prepared
- she took the lift to the top of the mountain
- she waited her turn
- she made her way to the starting gate
- she readied herself
- she shot out onto the track...
- Adrenaline flowing, her goal in mind, her route memorized, her purpose clarified - the skier bolted onto the hill, hit the snow, teetered for a moment, and fell to the side of the course less than one hundred yards into a two mile race.
Now that is a sad story! But it is so often our story when it comes to initiatives of the spirit.
Read the scripture again - “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
The scene, the setting, was Jerusalem. Jesus had already had his big parade and a lot of people were excited (we'll be talking about this some more on Palm Sunday). Now he's talking with some people about his purpose, why he's in Jerusalem, and what's coming up for him in the near future. Jesus is well aware of what's going to happen, and it's getting to him, like a gut punch in the very heart of his humanity.
Big parade. Excited crowds. Then reality. Of course his heart was troubled.
So yesterday evening my church met for dinner and a worship service. The focus was Ash Wednesday, what we purpose to accomplish during Lent, and the understanding that we are talking this journey together, as a committed faith community. I don't know how many people were there, just that our fellowship hall was stretched to its limit and that people had to scurry to find extra chairs.
Pastor Tim preached, using the image of the phoenix, a mythic bird that lives around 500 years before dying in flames. A new phoenix then emerges from the ashes.
It's a great picture of Reformation, both as a church and as individuals. And it's a great picture of Lent. Because, as we took communion together, sharing the bread and the wine, the pastors also offered the "imposition of ashes".
For us, in our small corner of the worldwide community of faith, it was quite clear - it is quite clear - that our lives as spiritual beings have the opportunity to come to a place, like the phoenix, where we can die to everything that gets in the way of the gospel-imperative - the imperative of life - and can rise from the ashes in terms of newness and restoration and reformation and redemption.
We are saved! Not so much from something as into something more. That something is the Work of God in the here and now.
It's the second day of Lent. We headed out of the shoot with intention and purpose - especially last night at my church. So what is today going to look like, and tomorrow? When our hearts are trouble, like Jesus, what are we going to do? Will we be faithful... or are we going to fall off our skis, drift to the edge of the course, and never know what might have been?
It's a choice - our choice - every day.