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The Lectio Letter - Issue #6 - Lessons from Lent in Lockdown
Welcome to the Sixth edition of the Lectio Letter.
A Number of new members joined since last time. If that’s you, you can catch up with them;
Although this is a members-only newsletter, please do feel free to forward it on to those who might find it useful, incredibly even though only a handful receive this email every few weeks the last issue was shared and read over 500 times.
As you forward it on, I’d appreciate your help encouraging others to sign up.
Grace to each one of you as you continue to navigate this time.
“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges
Work: While there are greater tragedies afoot in the world, we are deeply sad not to be in Kona for our scheduled Teleios programme intensive. Despite the programme itself, we were so looking forward to seeing students, dear friends and family there. For now, we are discerning our way forward for the programme. We posted a ministry update for those who are interested.
Music: I’ve once again been trawling through the excellent content from NPR’s tiny desk and this show by NZ/Aus/Brit Jordan Rakei sent me down an audio journey which culminated in the creation of a Spotify Playlist which is my ‘most played’ in this season.
Viewing: We’ve been back to old favourites Brooklyn Nine nineand trying to convince our neighbours that Parks and Recreation is one of the best shows in recent years (just got to get through thefirst season)
Food and Drink: Well, like most people we’ve been on lockdown. But before that we picked up frozen Korean Beef Bulgogi from Cape Town’s Sepials Kitchen which we enjoyed as an end to Sabbath yesterday.
Lessons from Lent in Lockdown
Those of you who know me well will know that in the last few yearsI’ve been increasingly engaged with the importance of following the Christian Calendar. Far from being a boring old ritual of religious repetition, I’ve seen how this telling and re-telling of the central Christian story forms us in deep and lasting ways that may be even more impactful than our one-time gospel ‘presentations’.
Each aspect of the Christian Calendar invites us to look backwards and forwards to more meaningfully and intentionally engage the present.
The fact that this current global crisis and the subsequent lockdown for the vast amount of the global population has taken place during lent is extraordinary and has meant that whether you are from a high or low church tradition, as John Mark Comer recently remarked;
“it’s lent for everyone now”
So how can the observance of this ancient Christian season help us learn how to be more fully human, more fully Christ-ian, in this season of lockdown?
Descent before Ascent
Firstly, Christian wisdom and the central aspect of the Christian story is an other-worldly recognition that descent comes before an ascent.
Often our upbeat self-improvement-obsessed culture leads us to cling to cut-and-paste verses like 'being transformed from glory to glory’ without paying nearly enough attention to Jesus-shaped glory which was His death on a cross.
Lent leads us to reflect firstly over Jesus’ baptism, a moment that both confirmed his identity and symbolised his body being the dry ground between parted waters that opened up our way to the promised land. But in the same way as Israel’s journey through those parted waters was not immediate fulfilment, so lent reminds us that Jesus is led by the Spirit from His identity-confirming moment into the wilderness.
Lent is a 40-day engagement with Jesus’ time in the wilderness which catches us up and reminds us of the 40 years endured by the people Israel, once again, reminding us that descent comes before an ascent.
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, many churches will wave palm crosses remembering Jesus’ pseudo-triumphal entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey. A few weeks ago the palm crosses from the previous year were burnt and used as the ash to mark a cross on believer’s foreheads as a mark of repentance for and complicity in, the sin that stains God’s good world.
It is a strange practice, but like many liturgical practises there is a sermon in the sign. A full year before, the celebrations of Palm Sunday, the remembering of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, celebrated as a coming liberating King.
A year later those same celebratory palms are the ash through which we remember;
“…from dust we came and to dust we shall return”
God’s conquering King, in the eyes of the palm branch wavers, was seemingly conquered by the Roman Empire at the cross just a few days later.
Many of our premature celebrations turn to dust, but just like the act of baptism represents, God calls us to death so that we may find life. Lent is a time of remembering that we are dead people walking.
Peter Leithart says,
“Lent tells us what time it is - the time between [Jesus’] resurrection and [our] resurrection.”
Lent reminds us that although by the Spirit of God we participate in Christ’s resurrected body we await our own and the renewing of all the cosmos around us. In Lent, we resist our culture’s tendency to rush to end of the story and we reflect on the ‘not yet’ of theKingdom of God.
Our cultures have become used to selling a view of life that will never end, and yet the current crisis is and will continue to pierce a serious and personal hole in that narrative.
Psalm 90:12 - "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
We have become addicted to racing past grief, distracting ourselves from our loss. Our culture teaches us to pick the easy route and certainly considering our death is not that. But although death is an enemy of God and one He has and will conquer, death does teach us about how to live in this time. Death teaches us humility.
A Humility that affrims 3 things
A friend and YWAM teacher Matt Rawlins shared a wonderful framework for recognising 3 themes at play in our human lives. As I’ve reflected on these three, it seems to me that to live humbly we have to be able to affirm the truth of all three of these, despite thefact they are often held in tension against one another.
Matt’s three themes are that; “We are Gifted, We are broken, and we are finite.”
Depending on what stream of evangelical Christianity you are a part of, our telling of the Christian story places weight primarily on one of the first two, giftedness or brokeness. What is so often entirely ignored though, is that we are finite and this is the lesson that lent seeks to teach us in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our finiteness is so often denied that when we come to the end of our finite selves we hurriedly try to figure out whether it was a failure in our giftedness or the emergence of our brokenness. We are unable to name that we have come to the end of our human limits, our finitude, and that is a good thing.
Christians are people who dwell in the life in Christ, but have we only accepted one half of this formula?
John 12:24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
Lent is here in the midst of the current crisis to show us where we have been resisting death, our own finitude, and therefore forsaking the quality of life Jesus’ is offering to us.
Surely one of the invitations of this season is to reckon with the preciousness of life, number our days and gain hearts of wisdom. We are invited to a participation in the resurrected life of God who dies in order that we might fully live.
Further Resources I've found insightful during this current crisis
1) Already widely shared and deserving multiple reads to digest, Praxis Labs have written: “Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup”. It’s significant for anyone who leads something big or small.
Notwithstanding these hopes (or wishes), we believe every leader and organization — every nonprofit, every church, every school, every business — should be planning for scenarios that include years-long disruption.
2) On Digital Minimalism in global pandemics - Cal Newport There is, I propose, a simple two-part solution to this state of affairs.
First, check one national and one local new source each morning. Then — and this is the important part — don’t check any other news for the rest of the day..This will be really hard, especially given the way we’ve been trained by social media companies over the past decade to view our phone as a psychological pacifier.
3) Ephraim Radner offers some stark and contrarian advice when he suggests SHOULD WE LIVE STREAM WORSHIP? MAYBE NOT.
What if, in this Time of the Virus, we took this kind of honesty and simplicity seriously? We would “suffer” the fact that we cannot gather for worship; we would experience straightforwardly the burdens of the moment, some of them quite harsh, unveiling our long-standing misplaced commitments; we would tutor hope in a time of stark changes and impositions. When it comes to worship, we might learn to pray alone. We might learn to use the prayer book with our families, aloud, regularly — using an actual book, turning pages, touching paper. We might learn to sing hymns together, rather than listening to them broadcast through the computer. We might learn to become lonely (or finally to admit that we already are) and to cry out. We might learn to hunger and thirst even for the Bread of Life, for the Body of Christ, as many have done over the centuries in this or that place of desolation or confinement. We might learn to read theScriptures audibly, for ourselves and with others in our homes. We might let clergy and others make home visits, one on one.
Finally this is something meaningless, beautiful and strangely satisfying
Cats and Domino
Grace and Peace to you all until next time..