e-letter 03/08/19

Dear Church Family,
Growing up, I was never too thrilled about Lent. The way I defined Lent was by the food. (This is very typical for me!) Being Catholic, my mom skipped red meat and poultry on Fridays as a part of her fast. That meant we did too! Our lunches were always peanut butter and jelly on those Fridays, and our dinners were meatless, too. Sometimes, this meant good food, like ordering out cheese pizza. But other times, it meant food I hated, like fish sticks. Fish-stick-Friday was my first glimpse of sacrifice — having to refuse meat in front of my friends, and enduring that yearly consumption of fish sticks, even though I hated them.
However, as I grew older, the rhythm of Lent felt like an old friend, one that I needed each year to set my discipleship right. The discipline of sacrifice, simplicity, of not saying Hallelujah during Mass and not eating meat on Fridays turned my eyes toward my own sin and the world’s sin. The forty days, marking the forty days Jesus spent tempted in the desert, are meant for this purpose. We follow Jesus into a time of fasting and prayer to prepare our hearts for the resurrection. This simplicity and sacrifice remind us that we are lucky to have what we have — even fish sticks! It reminds me that not all of world lives as easy a life as I do here in the US. Lent, and the practice of “giving up” helps orient us back towards the redemption and grace that our God offers us in Jesus.
Lent began this past Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. We put ashes on our forehead and said, “We are dust, and to dust we shall return.” We are reminded that all is not as it should be — yet this is the precise reality that Jesus entered into in his life, death, and resurrection. This sadness, death, despair, and pain is what Jesus came to save and be in. Jesus is not afraid of our human condition. Jesus seeks to restore us. Throughout this season, we will name the reality of sin through our series “Restored,” and we will talk about how the grace of God comes to save us from that reality.
You will undoubtedly get asked this week, “What are you giving up for Lent?!” That can be a hard question! Sometimes we fast things like dessert, fast food, or sugary drinks. While we aim to be spiritual about this, we often do it to lose weight or improve ourselves in some other way. This fasting can sometimes lead us to punishing ourselves, and can be harmful, especially to those with eating disorders or those who already experience lack in their lives. Those with much more spiritual wisdom than I do always remind me that I have the option to engage in fasts that were better for my own growth, like fasting social media or complaining. For me, fasting in all of these ways is a way to mark, in a physical way, a spiritual reality in my own life. I am emaciated by my excess and by my frivolous spending of time and energy. I needed to take a break and turn my eyes towards Jesus.
Recently, someone reminded me that we can take things on for Lent, too. A few years ago, this was gardening for me. I had to be disciplined in my attending to another living thing, even when I was terrible at it. Others engage in 40 days of prayer, Scriptural study, or serving in missions. These “taking-on” disciplines are just as formative for us as fasting. They help us grow deeper in our relationships with Jesus and live into the love and grace that is offered to us in the season of the Passion of Christ and Easter.
Whatever you take on or give up this season, let it offer you the opportunity to be honest with yourself about your discipleship and your human condition. We do not have to pretend to have it all together in Lent. We are in a desert season — a time of reflection, honesty with ourselves and others, and a time of spiritual discipline. This helps us be even more ready to accept the surprising Easter joy of the resurrection.
You are dust. So am I. Thank goodness God meets us here anyways — this day and always.
See you Sunday,
Pastor Allee