Tuesdays in the Chapel
March 2, 2010
1. The season of Lent comes to us with a large stop sign! It is like someone stepped in our path and crossed their arms on their chest. Wear the ashes that remind us of mortality; put frivolity aside and think about the journey we are on.
The metaphor of a journey is important because we all are on several journeys but we often do not think about them. There is first the journey of life itself. The poet, Alison Apotheker captures a bit of the journey in her poem Ground Water. Pregnant, playing with her 2 year old son in the snow, she concludes:
"But now, as we walk home in the dusk,
my two-year old riding my hip,
patting my cheeks with his mittened hands,
I never want to leave this earth.
Inside the baby tumbles and reels,
already knowing where the body will take us,
that we have no choice but to follow its lead."
Life is what happens between the infinities of birth and death or as my favorite actor, Robert Duvall, says in one of his roles: “We live between the sweet grass and the slaughter house.”
There is a moment after the Christmas season when this sense of mortality becomes especially important for me as I look at the pictures that come in the mail over the holiday: the children who are another year older. When we see each other regularly, we do not notice how we change, but when the cards come at Christmas you notice. I go through my address list and change the addresses of those who have moved and remove the names of those who have died. The poet notices; Jesus was on such a journey on his way to Jerusalem during this season. Luke from Chapter 9 on in his Gospel has Jesus on a journey to Jerusalem. That is why it is a serious time.
2. But everything does not need to be taken seriously—or so seriously. Our Jewish friends know this; that is why Purim is such a sweet break in this season. Remember too that we are also on a journey toward spring. You saw the news this week and the young woman who repeated on several networks: “I am so ready for spring.” I was in Chapel Hill last Sunday. Daffodils were blooming. Forsythia was blooming. It was a good reminder of the progression of the seasons. On March 14th we will welcome daylight savings time. It the morning it will still be dark when we get up but at 6 pm the sun will be up. The Red Sox will be coming north shortly thereafter and once again we can breathe; we have survived winter. We may not always admit it, but that is also why we take this season seriously. We know where it leads us.
3. There is also the more personal journey for each of us. One of you had a birthday last week. Others made progress on a paper you were writing, on a project at work. These are our modest personal journeys not marked by life and death but the daily accomplishments by which we mark progress. With eyes open we go forward and we coordinate our journey’s with these other journeys—the cosmic journey between infinities, the turn of the seasons, our own progress in life.
4. AND then there is Easter.
It is a story we have heard before and sometimes it is confused and distant; we hear the rituals that some have at Easter and wonder what in the world they are doing. A friend mentioned a trip she likes to take to Guatemala during this season to observe the rituals leading up to Good Friday. They sound very interesting and exotic. You have to wonder, however, how others hear of our traditions: we celebrate Easter when a large rabbit appears and then we hide eggs. It is another way we make light of serious stuff. If you cannot deal with the mystery of Easter, make it humorous.
But it is serious business and with Luke we turn our eyes toward Jerusalem; we reach beyond the Bible to claim the story of the people of God who lived through a tragedy that brought new life. It is a story that began in a dark stable, was revealed by Wise men who came from far away to proclaim that something important had happened. It is a story that has at its heart promises; there are disappointments and ultimately triumph. God has, we believe, reached out to us and brought us close. That may be a blessing, but It can also be our challenge. The Lenten season helps us journey to where we need to be.
Dr. Robert M. Randolph