"Holy Partners" on our Lenten Journey
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 6th: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 128; and Hebrews 3:1-6. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Yesterday was the Second Sunday of Lent. It has been 13 days so far. If you made any Lenten resolutions of any sort, how are you doing? It is reported that 25% of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up within the first week – the first week! Most everyone who makes New Year’s resolutions quits by the end of January. It is slightly less than 10% of those who make resolutions who see them through to completion. Maybe these numbers will allow us to give the ancient Israelites some slack as we read today about their petulance.
I think another moderating factor is that the Exodus account’s details cannot be held up to the standards of modern historical accuracy. There are seeds of historical remembrances passed along in edifying myths through generations until they are finally written down. What amazes me and inspires me is that these religious stories, based upon historical possibilities, are brave enough to share the bad with the good, the failures with the successes, the querulousness with the steadfastness.
Panegyric is defined as a formal, public proclamation of praise, but its definition also should include the absence of anything negative. Panegyric is unstinted praise, even if history must be ignored. I am always amused by propaganda especially when it is masked as news. It is reported in North Korea, for example, that their leader played a round of golf and shot 18 hole-in-ones. The North Korean media has offered that their ruler’s body is so perfectly attuned that he never needs to use the bathroom. Such things are so absurd that they are meaningless.
I contrast such vacuous accounts with the honesty of the Hebrew Scripture’s accounts of Israel’s story, such as today’s account from Numbers. The people of the Exodus generation are the people who endure the trying experience of the 40 years wandering in the wilderness. This time of hardship and depravation is portrayed within the myth of Israel’s national emergence as the time when the people forged the connections that made them into one people. This is where the Jewish people’s story of July Fourth and the Revolution begins. It could have been told as panegyric, as nothing but praise for an idyllic founding generation. Instead, there is honesty.
This honesty makes the account meaningful and relatable. It speaks to character and moral flaws that are quite serious. Rather than write a fairy tale, the biblical authors wrote about such things, and in the passage of time these writing were accepted as inspired Scripture by later generations who also did not shy away from such honesty.
Lent is a time of self-reflection, of telling our stories with an honesty akin to that of the ancient Jews. In the Hebrews passage, we read “holy partners in a heavenly calling.” Lent is a time to look at our spiritual selves and to be honest, to celebrate our accomplishments, but also to admit to our weaknesses … but within the context that we are on this Lenten journey as “holy partners.” So therefore, are we faithful in our own spiritual practices and also to one another? Are our faith lives not lived in isolation but as interdependent? Do we care about the faith of our “holy partners” and do we acknowledge and appreciate their care for us?
We have put over a week between us and Ash Wednesday. Have we already slackened in our Lenten enthusiasm like those people who quit on their New Year’s resolutions after only one week? Are we still investing more of ourselves in Lent’s discipline and discovery? Will we strive to keep at it, and will we be there as “holy partners” for the others on the same Lenten journey?
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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