For 2015, I am using a nifty Lectionary app, that gives me Bible readings from Psalms, Old Testament, and New Testament, daily. Though I was not raised in this tradition, I am appreciating the way that spirituality and season are tied together, the way that the year forms a template for redemptive history. Monday, 2 of February, was a celebration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. That made me look back into Leviticus and read the law. 40 days after birth, the mother and child bring a sacrifice, signaling the end of her post-partum period, a return to community and health. Yes, it has been 40 days since Christmas already. Because Joseph and Mary were poor, they did not have to buy a lamb, but used the provision for "a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons." This is the scene where Simeon recognizes the infant Jesus as a light for revelation for all people. Then more ominously, he predicts that Jesus will bring division, opposition, a decision point for many, a way of revealing their hearts. And lastly, he says to Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Is that not the way of this life, as a mother, a pilgrim, a struggler? You see redemption coming, but a sword pierces your soul. Because redemption is not a theoretical concept. It is a process that is still unfolding the world over, and it involves people we love, and a piercing ache.
Scott landed last night in Monrovia, was picked up by one of the SIM ebola-survivor missionaries who is back for a month and whom he will replace this week. He reached the ELWA hospital compound, in the dark, with the sound of the sea and the humid lingering dark heat. Meanwhile a vaccine trial is going ahead in Liberia and Uganda, but a treatment trial of a new antiviral was suspended due to inadequate patient numbers. Schools may reopen this month, as soon as chlorine buckets are organized. Infection rates are slowing across the region, thank God, but as I read this morning, even one case is enough to spark a new surge of the epidemic. Two British medical workers were evacuated after needle stick injuries.
So on the day that Epiphany blends towards ordinary time, I decided to move Lent up early. Lent is a tradition I find meaningful, a period of fasting, prayer, meditation, preparation to remember and celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection. Giving up something(s) that is not essential to life, that is a luxury or a crutch, is a daily/hourly reminder of our weakness and dependency. As if I needed one more, on a day with a heart-crushing death (see below), entering into the story of a Somali-Kenyan teen who is skeletally thin for unclear reasons, scrambling to prepare for guests, listening to the poignant story of a new friend mourning her brother, a 9 pm mission-related virtual meeting, a late night with frustratingly slow internet trying to help my last son on his last college app way overdue, and the sinking pit of loneliness, I think I'm pretty aware of just how helpless I am. But the other side of the coin of desperation is deliverance. This two-month Lent, let us be alert to the hidden work of God. To impossible situations turning out well. To celebration and hope, to open doors and new life. The transition from fasting to celebration is prayer. In our weakness, we ask.
Consider a Lent this year, a season of abstaining from something good for the purpose of growing in deeper awareness of depending on God's power to resurrect us.
A sword will pierce our souls, but we pray that the holy pain will heal, that the scar will be a reminder of glory.