When asked what kind of a Christian I am, more often than not I am inclined to tell people that I am a “Good Friday Christian.” Lent is my favorite season in the Christian calendar. Not that I am opposed to Easter. But Easter without Lent is simply a magic show — a comedy — “but seriously folks, I’m back!”
What surprises me is that Lent may always have been the most revered Christian season; the season during which God most closely identifies with human and divine suffering. So that while no one is particularly surprised when relatively well-to-do practitioners deprive themselves of some pleasure or another for a season, it is interesting that not-so-well-off religious practitioners from the very beginning found consolation in this season. And, no wonder. For it is during this season that God most closely identifies with their condition. It was, Jesus will repeatedly remind those who ask, why he came. Yes, there will be a party later. Yes, there will be a feast. Yes, everyone will be invited. The attendants will park your cars. Its an open bar. Kick up your heals. Dancing until the wee hours of the morn.
But, we are not there yet. We are not even close.
Which is why for the next forty or so days, I will be posting links to some of the places I believe God is spending Lent; not at the country club; not at the night club; not at the book club. God has turned and is facing “Jerusalem,” which is where God is not wanted, where God should not go. But before we mistake this Jerusalem for the historical city or, worse still, a future city, the New Jerusalem, we should bear in mind why Jesus is going there and what will happen when he gets there.
Jerusalem is the religious community. It is my religious community. Jesus has chosen to conduct his ministry among those who are not members of my religious community, not members of my church. He has thrown himself into a ministry of healing, caring, feeding, and praying among the poor, the widows, the hungry, the naked, the blind, and the ill; which is to say, he has thrown himself into a ministry outside the community of faith. But now he has squared his shoulders and he is now determined to come to my church, even though (or perhaps because) he knows what I will do to him when he gets here. He knows that he and his associates are not wanted, not welcomed.
Why? Because he is impure. He has performed miracles on the Sabbath. He has made light of our laws surrounding male and female relationships. He has shared meals with outcasts and sinners. He conducts his ministry with women, single women, of doubtful reputation. If “bad company corrupts good morals,” then we know where this man’s morals lie. And now that he has stirred up trouble in the hinterland and built up a substantial following, he is bringing his trouble into my community.
Not on my watch.
Lent is an accusation. It is a verdict against religious communities. Everywhere. Jesus is coming to visit our communities. But we are going to lock our doors and shutters to him and to his kind. None of this turning the other cheek, or giving both shirt and coat away. None of this “when you failed to do it to the least of these” guilt-tripping. And, so, when he gets here, we are going to turn him away. And then we are going to kill him.
This is the message that transfixed religious practitioners for Christianity’s first three centuries. Lent hailed the cosmic turning of tables, the welcoming of the outcast, the redemption and emancipation of those without hope. And Easter? Easter is at best the first-fruits, the foretaste, the promise — not its fulfillment. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, shows that he understands this; only when all of creation and all creatures are caught up into the emancipatory project — only then will the promise be fulfilled.
But, Lent. We do not have to wait for Lent to be fulfilled. It is here already. God among the poor, homeless, victims of war and famine, orphans, widows, sick and sorrowful. God is already among the victims of hate crimes and ignorance, the victims of the Koch brothers and Citizens United. The dead in eastern Ukraine are not rising to their feet. The victims of ISIS are not rejoining their families. The hungry in Sudan are not sitting down to feast. The lion is not lying down with the lamb. The lion is eating the lamb. This is not an Easter story. It is a Lenten story.
No rabbit in the hat, no card up the sleeve, no handkerchief. No magic at all.