Again?! More?! More giving up, letting go, and self-denial, more awareness of need and sin, more repentance and vulnerability? Do we really need more Lent? The past year feels like a long Lent with so much loss and grief, and it is as if we are still waiting for Easter. Now more Lenten wilderness again? Let us keep praying with the psalmist “How long, O Lord?”[i] Scripture both gives voice to our lament and reminds us of our story.
Back near the beginning, in the Book of Genesis, seeing evil pervasive throughout the world, God sent a flood. God also chose to save through the ark. Afterward, God gave a promise: I will never destroy like this again. I choose you and all living creatures forever. The flood is not as surprising to me now as it once was because I have experienced more of the prevailing evil. I see the wrong not simply in others as it is easy to point out, but that which is in myself. I mess up so much over and over again in thought and action, opposing God, not loving my neighbor, nor loving myself. The flood reminds that we all sin and fall short.
Notice God’s promise to Noah. It’s one-sided. There is no requirement for how Noah or humanity must behave. It’s all up to God. Just after this passage, Noah gets drunk and is ashamed. In the Bible, we hear stories of human folly again and again. The characters cheat, steal, fight, conspire, sleep around, murder, and all the other things that, if we are honest, resonate with our desires and actions. From the flood and throughout, scripture reminds us we all need salvation.
God called our frail ancestors and used them, made a people to bless and help heal the world. God kept coming, providing, and shaping through 40 years in the wilderness, accompanied by prophets, judges, and kings, through exile and return. Again and again, God has kept saving. God came fully in Jesus Christ, who saves through his life, death, and resurrection. Our story repeats and reminds of our need and God’s salvation.
It can be hard to receive, hard to take in the good news. Many of us were given an image of God who is a harsh and stern authority with a pointing finger demanding an apology. Our different worship order for Lent which begins with confession and kneeling might trigger that image.
I find I need to pay particular attention so that I’m listening closely each time the presider says: “Dear friends in Christ, God is steadfast in love and infinite in mercy, welcoming sinners and inviting them to the Supper of the Lamb. Let us confess our sins confident in God’s forgiveness.” Steadfast in love, infinite in mercy, welcoming, and inviting. Hear and receive these words. Come and listen to this God.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. Coming up from the water, God spoke from heaven: You are my Beloved. Jesus receives this blessing, this love, before being driven into the wilderness, before beginning his ministry of proclamation. Lent begins not with confession but with love, steadfast and from the beginning. God meets you and me where we are and keeps saying: You are my beloved. Before the wilderness, or before more wilderness, before confession and fasting, hear this refrain: You are my beloved.
We may need ways to pay particular attention for we struggle in receiving love. Here are a couple that may be helpful. What is a loving image you might pray with? Scripture gives many options. Jesus is like a hen who gathers her brood under her wings. Imagine yourself as protected under strong loving wings. Imagine yourself as a lamb with Jesus, the divine shepherd who holds you tenderly, calls you by name, goes after, finds, and brings you back to safety. God told Abraham to look at the stars. Look at the sky, to stars or rainbows and remember God who keeps good promises for you with love. You might let your body help you pray. Trying wrapping yourself in a hug. Feel the warm of the embrace. In this position, hear Jesus saying: You are my beloved. Let the words sink in through your skin.
Out of the experience of being loved, we risk kneeling and confessing sin. In response to love, we refrain by giving up or taking something on, reviewing and attending to our appetites, greed, and need. First and continually, we hear the good news. We hear God’s refrain: You are my beloved. It’s like the music of our lives, a refrain sung over and over, telling us who we are.[ii] Hear the constant refrain from your birth and from the beginning: You are my beloved. Hear and feel yourself wrapped in love again and again. Then kneel in your heart and perhaps on your knees to confess sin, to turn and repent.
We are weary entering Lent again. The psalmist gives us words to pray: “How long, O Lord?” May we also pray as the psalmist concludes: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.”[iii] Indeed, God is bountiful, and God keeps singing this refrain: You are my beloved.
[i] Psalm 13:1. My thanks to the creative partners of A Sanctified Art for their theme, including the tie to Psalm 13. “Again & Again: A Lenten Refrain” Planning Guide by Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity. Sanctifiedart.org
[iii] Psalm 13:5-6
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