Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 24th: Joshua 4:1-13; Psalm 32; and 2 Corinthians 4:16—5:5. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Joshua leads the twelve tribes of Israel across the Jordan River. The people of Israel enter the Promised Land at Gilgal. There they set up a memorial monument. The monument is said to consist of twelve stones from the riverbed of the Jordan River. Twelve men, one from each of Israel’s tribes, carry out one stone each “on his shoulder.” Even if these were the twelve strongest men in Israel, the memorial monument would not be monumental. As a matter of fact, the location of Gilgal has been lost to history. Much takes place at Gilgal. The name appears 41 times in Scripture, but this once important site has been lost to history.
Paul worked as a tentmaker. This is how he paid his expenses as he traveled throughout the Roman Empire preaching about Jesus and establishing church communities. These two endeavours intertwine in today’s 2 Corinthians’ passage. The tent becomes a symbol of the transitory for Paul. It serves its purpose well, but its purpose is not permanent. The tent is intended for temporary shelter.
Our physical bodies, says Paul, are our earthly tents. They serve us in the world, but our time in the world is limited. We are mortal creatures. Death is an unavoidable part of life. I remember being at a Youth Retreat years back. I spent the week in a tent with two other counselors. I was grateful for the tent while trying to survive in the wilds of 4-H Camp Howe in Goshen, but I would not want to remain in that tent any longer than I needed. I was so happy to return home and sleep in my bed.
Likewise, Paul contrasts the earthly tents of our bodies with the spiritual lives we will share with Christ in heaven. He writes: “… a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The tents of our bodies are blessings, but they are temporary. Paul is pushing us to invest ourselves while living in these tents to anticipate our eternal dwellings, saying, “… for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
This only makes sense by trust, by faith. Those who cannot trust or believe in the unseen eternal cannot make this investment. And I actually get that. The unseen eternal can seem to many to be no different than any other make-believe tale. But the thing about faith is that it doesn’t live in the past – Gilgal is lost to history, and it doesn’t abide in the future – the unseen eternal. It lives in the present. The past can give a foundation to faith and the future offers hope to faith, but faith lives in the present.
Faith needs to be real now. Faith cannot be merely the recollection of someone else’s faith nor the prospect of an unseen future. Faith abides with us and among us here and now. Lent calls us to make faith a living connection with Jesus. It gives us the time and opportunity to build a strong living relationship with Christ. And it is the faith alive in the present that is moved by the love of the cross on Golgotha and comforted by the hope of the empty tomb. Let’s, therefore, take advantage of every Lenten moment.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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