For forty days, we Christians journey through the time of Lent. It is a time for reflection, penance, and self-denial. We give up those things that spoil us, that cause us to act like entitled little brats, and we let ourselves be viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ… and if we’re really being honest with ourselves, we’re usually pretty ashamed of what we see. It is the impetus that forces us off our own path and onto the one that Jesus is marching down.
Since I’ve entered the ministry, Lent has taken on a deeper meaning for me. I’ve stopped giving up chocolate and meat on certain days and have begun searching for better ways to be a disciple. But as Lent has taken on greater meaning, I have come to realize that I’ve been one of those people who mistakenly celebrate Easter all throughout Lent and then stop celebrating Easter as soon as the sun sets on Resurrection Sunday. It’s the same phenomena modern Christians are plagued with at Advent as well… we are so eager to get to the good stuff that we forget the benefits of the long wait. We are so eager to celebrate the part of the story that fills our hearts with joy that we forget to take the time to really prepare our hearts and souls for that joy when it does come. Our desire of instant gratification is so overwhelming that we ignore the period of waiting that is designed not just to allow us to enjoy the joy in the end and to become better disciples, but is supposed to remind us of the anxious way we look forward to the return of our Lord, when His Kingdom is fully established right here on this Earth.
So, now that I am deliberately focusing my attentions on the journey of Lent and delaying the core of the celebration until its proper time in the liturgical calendar, I have come to realize that I have been missing out on an awful lot of joy and celebrating during Easter.
In the past, Easter ended with Easter Sunday. But, according to tradition, Easter only begins on Easter Sunday… it lasts for fifty days… the joy goes on and on.
So this year, I decided that as a part of my ongoing celebration of Easter, now that the time of self-denial and penance has been completed, that I would find ways to celebrate the ways that Jesus is risen and active and alive in my life here and now.
Like most clergy, I am in a period of recuperation. Lent is extremely long for ministers, and Holy Week is a marathon. So, by the time the day after Easter Sunday finally arrives, we don’t want to get out of bed. The danger is that this very much-needed time of rest could potentially allow me to emotionally check out from the celebration that should be just beginning.
So, I asked myself the question as I lay in bed last night how I might avoid that emotional check-out and how I might adequately celebrate a living God in my life…
And the answer came to me in an unexpected way:
For several weeks I had planned to attend a rally to protest an immoral and unjust financial restructuring plan Patriot Coal has developed. This plan would strip retirees and their widows of much-needed health benefits. Should they be permitted to do this, a dangerous precedent would be established which would allow corporations to rob hard-working citizens of the benefits they earned with a lifetime of toil and hard work. Everything about the Bible tells us to take care of our neighbor, to provide for the orphan and widows, to keep our promises, and to treat others with the love and compassion that we want to be treated with. And nothing about Patriot Coal’s plan is living into that.
I had planned to march on this day, not just because as an American I can’t help but feel that what is being done is very un-American… but because as a Christian, I know it is plain and simply wrong. I planned to march, not as a supporter of unions (although I am), not as a supporter of economic justice (although I am), not as an advocate of working men and women (although I am)… but as a Christian, because that is my center, the very core of who I am, why I make the decisions I make, and why I take the stands I take.
So, I decided not to wear the unofficial uniform of this movement (camouflage). I didn’t tie the red bandana around my neck (the mark of union miners during the Coal Wars). But I wore my clergy collar. It is a garment I tend to only wear on Holy Days or at moments when I feel the visible presence of clergy is much-needed.
As I marched in that sea of camouflaged men and women, I felt in a lot of ways that I stuck out like a sore thumb. There I was… the woman in the black blouse and white tab collar, announcing to all the world that who I was, in the midst of that great crowd, was a person walking with Jesus.
And Jesus was indeed with us on that march. I know this, because when I read scripture I find that God is always with those who are suffering. Jesus was with lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners and demonics. He was preaching on the outskirts of town to the farmers, the migrant workers, the laborers, the toilers, the poor, and the struggling. So, when elderly men and women find themselves fearing for their final years, you can guarantee Jesus is there.
As I sat in my car after the march, waiting for the parking garage to clear out and traffic to thin out before I dared to venture home, I tugged at my collar and unfastened it and suddenly realized that maybe, during these fifty days of Easter, I need to be willing to lose my anonymity as a Christian. After all, if I truly want to live in the footsteps of Christ, I have to be willing to shed my tendency to hide. Didn’t he tell us that he had no place to lay his head? Didn’t he tell us to take up our cross and follow him? And although he did seek time alone so that he could pray and center himself, he never hid. Jesus was never anonymous, and neither should his followers be.
So, I decided that if I am going to live in the image of a living God, I have to be willing live like a Christian… and that means rejecting the anonymity I often hide behind and accept the (albeit uncomfortable) role of living out loud.
We’ll see how this goes…