For those of us who follow Christian traditions, some of which are based on Jewish traditions, this time of year is referred to as “Lent.” It falls on the 40 days, not including Sundays, that are between Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded of our own mortality and limitations, and Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday, the leader marks those participating with a sign of the cross using ashes and usually says these words: “From dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Some Metropolitan Community Churches mix glitter in with the ashes to remind us that though the destination is certain, we might as well be fabulous along the way.
Lent is traditionally thought of as a time to give up something (traditionally rich foods, meat or chocolate) and for fasting, sometimes daily between sunrise and sunset, in preparation for a greater celebration. A more contemporary understanding is that Lent is a time for inward reflection and prayer and a time to set aside some distractions to get back in touch with our spirits. I would suggest that a 40-day period to reflect and to look inward would be a good idea for anyone, religious or not. Just before Lent is Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, a time to celebrate, let our hair down, and party hardy. It also serves the very practical purpose as a time for spring cleaning, emptying our kitchen pantries of rich foods including flour and lard so that we can begin again after Easter. That is the practical basis for the pancake suppers that pop up especially in rural churches at this time of year. Jewish traditions are similar as people prepare for the Passover by cleaning out foodstuffs and getting ready for the journey that the Passover commemorates.
A springtime period of reflection and letting go can be a good time for some spring cleaning, clearing out the old to make room for the new. This cleaning can also include habits, people and relationships. They say it takes 21 days to break a habit or start a new discipline, so the 40 days of Lent, plus six Sundays, should be double the time needed to set a new course. It is interesting to note that even Jesus began his officially documented ministry with 40 days of fasting in the wilderness away from distractions but also from the day-to-day concerns for food and comfort. There were temptations during those 40 days, but at the end of them Jesus came out stronger and wiser and able to do verbal battle with Satan him/herself. It is also interesting that Jesus subjected himself to the Baptism of Repentance offered by John the Baptizer. What did Jesus, often referred to as the sinless one, need to repent? The Baptism may have been an act of solidarity with all humanity, but I also suggest that Jesus had something to let go of or turn away from before moving on into the ministry to which he was called. Up until that point Jesus had been content with being the son of a carpenter, perhaps a religious student and a member of a human family. Baptism for Jesus marked the release of these old roles, relationships and self-understandings before he was ready to move on. Even Jesus had to give up some of the comforts and security and possibly even identity to claim the role that was designed for him. At this springtime season, I encourage you to take a time of “Lent” or whatever you’d like to call it to reset, restore and renew. Only once you take the time needed to do this important inner work can you step onto the bigger stage intended for you.
Rev. David Smith is the pastor of The Metropolitan Community Church of Charleston, located in North Charleston, S.C. This year the congregation will be celebrating it’s 40th year meeting the spiritual needs of the LGBTQI community and those who would walk our journey of faith with us. Rev.Smith has been a clergyperson in MCC for 25 years, most of it in Baltimore, M.D. and was raised in Atlanta as a “liberal Southern Baptist.”
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