Easter 1: Getting to an Easter moment

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash
Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Second-hand stores report that donations of clothing and household goods are way up possibly because people are Kondo-izing – emptying their homes of the things which no longer “spark joy.” It remains to be seen whether this year’s Kondo-izer’s will be back with another load of clutter next year. Did getting rid of the unnecessary things enable them to live differently or was it simply a way of making room so they could collect more stuff?  A similar question faces us at the end of Lent: will we start Lent next year with the same old clutter?

Some people are very good at Lent. For them, it is a 40 day marathon of privation and an exercise in self-control. Once the 40 days are over, they take back the stuff they gave up. It’s a good exercise, but it does not get us to an Easter moment. We get to an Easter moment only if a Lenten discipline has helped us to see that something was taking up a lot of space in our lives which was just clutter and we become willing to let it go and leave it behind.  If we can close the door on that clutter, another door will open.

Lent helps us see what is clutter; then we need to let it go and leave it behind.

Easter Sunday will come on April 21 this year. It’s a great celebration but it is not the same thing as an Easter moment. Easter moments will arrive when we least expect them, maybe as glimmers of an insight or as an “aha” as loud as a trumpet fanfare. They will arrive when and how they will. We may barely feel ready, but ready we will be, because we kept a Lent. We got rid of the clutter: we left it behind and closed the door on it. Without a doubt, another door will open.

Happy Easter.

Lent 4C: Nearly unimaginable

Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All of us have had the experience of thinking twice about what we’re going to say to someone we don’t know really — not well enough to know their politics.  If we say the wrong thing we could suddenly become “one of them,” or they could become “one of them” to us, and we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want the factionalism, the anger, the mistrust of the political scene today to ruin this moment, this friendship.

short stories by jesus

The parable in Luke is about two brothers who have grown to dislike and distrust one another. Amy-Jill Levine writes about this parable in Short Stories by Jesus,  She says that this parable is not about the Prodigal Son’s “repentance” or the father’s extravagant forgiveness. It is about two brothers who dislike and distrust one another.  (It’s a great book. She talks about this parable in Chapter 1: “Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son.”)

Most of us suspect that the father’s explanation (“all that is mine is yours”) is hopelessly naïve.  The Prodigal has returned to beg, not to repent, and we know that until the Prodigal is stopped, he will drain the father’s estate until there is nothing left for anyone.  As for the Elder brother, we can’t see what he has done wrong, so nobody is repenting. It’s a standoff.

Arguably, the parable asks us this question: Do we really need to be reconciled to someone whose values are diametrically opposed to our own, and whose actions and behavior threatens our well-being?  Do those of us who live in the hen house have to be reconciled to the fox?

One answer is, “no” —  we should not be reconciled.  Foxes and prodigals are dangerous and we should protect ourselves. But another answer is, maybe we should try.  Maybe human society is capable of more than “survival of the fittest.”  Maybe we are called to find a way to make peace with our enemies.

Jesus goes past “maybe” to say we absolutely should find a way to make peace with our enemies. Neither this parable nor his life story minimizes how difficult that might be. Like the brothers, our enemies may not be repentant. Like the brothers, our enemies may cling to values which are anathema to us. Like the brothers, we may have to see our carelessness or our privilege through others’ eyes.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians agrees: such standoff reconciliations are so difficult that we cannot do it in our present state. We will need to be a “new creation.”  Think Easter and new life. That’s big: nearly unimaginable. Forty days is not enough time for anyone get there; only enough time to gather the willingness to try.