The First week of Lent
Over the years I have grown to appreciate ever more deeply the rhythm of the church year: The haunting hope of Advent, the wondrous mystery of Christmas, the call to discipleship after Epiphany, the spiritual journey of Lent, the light and life of Easter, and the daily growth after Pentecost rising, at the end of the year, to texts that speak of the final harvest and the horizon of human history where Advent picks us up again. Hope, mystery, proclamation, repentance, joy, peace – judgment, incarnation, discipleship, dying, rising, witness, consummation – the pattern repeats again and again like a winding road ascending a mountain.
Christian faith and life isn’t about a set of ideas that puts you once and for all onto the right team or provides the ticket to the right ultimate destination. It is about the spiritual journey outward from our native narcissism to compassion and service. Christianity that fails to call us to this journey fails us. Any religious tradition that fails to call us to this journey fails us.
For Christians, baptism is the fundamental image of this spiritual journey. It is about dying and rising, the death of our turned-in-upon-ourselves-ness and the birth of a turned-outward-to-others-ness. From attachment to self, to attachment to God and neighbor. From devouring the world to serving the world. An infant puts everything in its mouth, and many adults never stop devouring, clutching, grasping at things and powers and honors and people. And then we run out of time and wonder why we wasted a life that could have been spent caring for others and being cared for. We never found the path to our humanity. We never made the turn from self to others.
Baptism is about that turn. Dying with Christ and rising to walk in newness of life:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ (John 3:6-7)
In the waters of Baptism, God promises to bring us to our new creation. And there we begin the journey of surrendering to that work of God in us.
We will hear these texts and others like them again and again as we move through this season. They are filled with promise – but a promise that moves us outward, beyond ourselves, into the fullness of our humanity.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
in the waters of baptism
you grant us new birth as your sons and daughters.
Keep us this day in your steadfast love
that we may walk the path of love and mercy
that is our true and eternal life.
– A prayer for the first week of Lent