A Lenten Conversation

A Lenten Conversation                                   1 March 2020

Ever been on a cruise? How did you like it? Looking forward to your next one?

I don’t think Ellis Vincent of Australia is planning another one. He and his wife were passengers on the Diamond Princess.  This is the cruise ship that anchored recently in Yokohama, Japan. Passengers were quarantined and confined to their cabins most of the time because of the Coronavirus.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (1) passengers including Mr. Vincent were interviewed. What was it like being cooped up in a cruise ship? But let Mr. Vincent describe it: He said he has spent more time than customary conversing with his wife while cooped up. She has an excellent memory, he said, “She is able to bring up every transgression I’ve ever had. I believe she is not finished.”

Sounds like a sophisticated version of Hell.  Or maybe Lent.

Lent has been observed from the earliest days of the church. George Wiegel who writes on religious matters particularly concerning the Roman Catholic church talked about this in an article in the Wall Street Journal March 1, 2014 (2):

In the fourth and fifth centuries, as Christianity emerged from its often-underground existence, the bishop of Rome, the pope, began to celebrate his daily mass during Lent at a local church, often built atop the home of an early Christian martyr. The pope, with his clergy and choir, would meet the Christians of Rome in the late afternoon at an appointed gathering place, a church called the collecta; then a great procession would wind its way through the city to the designated statio, the “station church” of the day, where mass was celebrated and the day’s fast broken by a communal meal.  Eventually a “station church” was designated for every day from Ash Wednesday until the Sunday after Easter.”

The custom lasted for hundreds of years. By the time of the “Babylonian Captivity” when the popes moved to Avignon in France in the early 1300’s the custom had died out.  Interestingly, the custom was re-started by American seminary students in Rome in the 1970’s and so far as I know continues on.

This custom in our times has been described in the book Roman Pilgrimage (3) which describes some of the present “station churches” which had also been “station churches” in those earlier days. I was with a group that visited Italy in March of 2006. We happened to visit one of those station churches. That group included Shannon Stone and Mildred Ford.

St. Sabina on the Aventine hill was built between 422 and 441 A.D.  Those of you who have been on tours will recall that tour guides always have a “this place is known for--------”line.  For St. Sabina it would be the old cypress doors original to the church with their carved wooden panels. On one panel Christ is on the Cross between the two thieves. This is thought to be the first such representation of Christ on the Cross between the thieves.

A thousand years or so later – give or take – St. Sabina was where both Saint Dominic and Saint Thomas Aquinas lived, worked, prayed.

We are at the beginning of Lent. What should we be doing?

We’ve darkened our foreheads with ashes.  We will not be saying, “Alleulia.” Some of us will give up chocolate or Coca-Cola.

Or should we find someone like Mrs. Vincent to tell us in great detail all the things we have done wrong, all the wrong things we’ve said, all the things we’ve failed to do…. That would be more penitential.

But we live in modern times.  We live in times of amazingly modern people. Let me share with you the story of such a person I read about recently. (4)

The writer tells of a day in the life of this amazing modern man. The writer identifies him as a real person, the founder and CEO of one of these internet entities whose name most of us would recognize. I’ll just call him Jack.

“Jack wakes up every morning at 5:00 a.m. After drinking a juice made from Himalayan sea salt, water, and lemon, he takes an ice bath. He meditates for one hour each morning and one hour each evening. On weekends, he eats nothing and drinks only water. Before going to bed, he moves between a dry sauna and an ice bath. A device monitors the quality of his slumber. [Jack] was raised Catholic, but he is no longer a believer…he is forty-three, unmarried and childless….”

Jack is a modern man who is making his life a “success.” He does it his way. The writer voiced Jack’s philosophy of life:

“You are your own author [of your life.] Stand on the shoulders of performance titans [who can provide you the secrets of success]. Cull their knowledge and design your own life practice for success. Map it all out. And for sure, get after it now.”

The writer closed by describing Jack and those like him, “These men want to create something larger than themselves, to leave something behind. They want to be like gods.”

If we listen carefully, we hear echoes of words found in ancient stories from the Old Testament:

“…And the serpent said to the woman, You will not die…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”

We laugh about the story – Adam and Eve and the apple. Of course, we laugh.  We have all the answers – we have the technology and the science. Everyone gets along, everyone is happy. If you don’t believe me, just read the papers.

Our Gospel reading is one of those traditionally associated with the beginning of Lent as well as the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. The reading from Matthew says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The three temptations to Jesus are to turn  stones into bread, to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that he would rescued by angels, and lastly to worship the devil in return for the devil giving him all the kingdoms of the earth.

These were temptations for Christ and we see parallels in the history of the Jewish people as found in the Old Testament.  The forty days, the forty years of the Jewish people in the wilderness, or Moses fasting for forty days.

God providing the manna for the people in the wilderness.

From the Eighth chapter of Deuteronomy: “Remember the whole way by which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness to humble and test you, and to discover whether or not it was in your heart to keep his commandments. So he afflicted you with hunger and then fed you on manna…to teach you that people cannot live on bread alone, but that they live on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

And Jesus response to the second temptation which quotes Deuteronomy: “You must not put the Lord your God to the test….”

But in truth we don’t face the temptations Jesus did.  But we do face temptations, we do face challenges, we do face obstacles.  And we don’t just face them during this particular part of the year.

So, what do we do?

What will we do this Lent?

Sometimes I overthink these things. 

I can learn things.

I can acquire facts.

I can acquire knowledge. But these are things that go into my head.

Maybe – when it gets down to it – Now is  a time I want  to feel better – I want to feel right - about things in my heart.

Our Presiding Bishop suggests a program he calls the Way of Love.  I don’t know him personally although I have met him; he seems to be a man of great faith and a follower of Jesus.

So, what do we do for Lent?

Rather than ‘give up” something we resolve to do something. Maybe that something would be to figure out how to be a “Little Christ.”  Maybe that something would be to participate in every way with my brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. Luke’s in the Way of Love.

Maybe this is the Lent I become a pilgrim.

Maybe this is the Lent I go on pilgrimage on the Way of Love.

Maybe this is a time to Turn back to Jesus, to Learn more about Jesus, his life and teachings, to Pray more, to pray more deeply, to pray every day that we are blessed to live, to Worship, and in all of these things to be blessed by God, and to be a blessing to our loved ones and friends, and to strangers…

 

Late in life Paul wrote a letter to his friends. Actually, what he would do as was the custom in those days - he would dictate standing up, maybe even pacing the room, and speak  what he wanted to say to his friends. If you hear one of his letters read,  close your eyes ,listen carefully, you can see him pacing the room, thinking about what he wanted to say to his friends, choosing just the right words…

This is from his letter to his friends at the church at Philippi.  He is talking about the Christian life. He is talking about following Jesus.  And if you listen carefully enough, I think he is talking about what we should be doing this Lent:

Rejoice in the Lord always,

I say it again: Rejoice!

Let your gentleness be evident to all.

The Lord is near.

Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things.  And the God of peace be with you!  Amen.

Richard Robertson

1 – Wall Street Journal – Feb. 15,16, 2020,”Fear,Boredom Aboard the Virus Cruise”

2 – Wall Street Journal – March 1,2; 2014, “The Revival of a Lenten Tradition”

3 – Roman Pilgrimage – George Weigel, Page 29 [Page following 116, St. Sabina, “The Crucifixion”]

4 – First Things ,  March 2020, Page 16, “Secular Monks,” Andrew Taggart

 

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