Today is December 26. It is still Christmas and it will be until January 6. My mother did not think so. On the evening of December 25 she tossed the tree, put away the decorations, fed the family the leftovers and announced it was 365 days until Christmas. For her the Depression stole Christmas, widening the gulf between those who have and those who do not.
When the lectionary tells me I can skip a few verses, I am not suspicious. I don't ask what secret is being kept from me or what doctrine is being protected. Very likely the omitted material is totally boring, or too bloody, or repeated elsewhere, or judged to offer no nourishment to faith hungering for bread.
Even if we’ve set out on the Lenten pilgrimage on Ash Wednesday and taken every step in penitence and prayer, we are still not prepared for the arrival. Neither were those who joined Jesus in Galilee and made their way up to Jerusalem. For many it was an annual pilgrimage, but in one particular year, the pilgrimage was a once-in-a-lifetime experience because it was made in the company of Jesus of Nazareth.
Despite confusion about the ending of this Gospel, Mark's Easter account is full of Good News. To disciples who had abandoned him and to Peter who had denied him, Jesus' word was, "I will meet you in Galilee. There we began together; there we will begin anew."
The Epistle to the Hebrews joins the Revelation to John as the literature most intimidating to readers of the New Testament. With the Revelation the reader must endure its terrible splendor; with Hebrews the reader must listen intently to the tightly woven arguments in what the writer calls a sermon.
In Dallas, Texas, one week prior to the assassination of President Kennedy, I heard German New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias reminisce about his life in Israel, where his parents were missionaries. After WWII, he returned nervously to Israel to see if the treatment of Jews by the Nazi regime had severed forever his friendships there. When he knocked at the door of an old friend, he was welcomed with an embrace.
The life situation of the reader provides a lens through which a text is read. Or, to change the metaphor, the life situation provides the magnet, which draws from a text whatever most clearly addresses the reader. For the same reader the same text may, under different circumstances, console or correct or convict or enlighten or inspire.
Lent carries in its bosom a seductive danger: excessive inwardness. The seduction is this: a season of prayer, repentance and preparation for Good Friday and Easter necessarily involves trips to the heart, but tarry there too long and repentance can stall out as melancholy. The danger is this: self-examination may spawn attempts at self-improvement, with the result that looking at self replaces looking to God, and small measures of merit replace the immeasurable grace of God.
It is difficult to listen to a text when there are other texts in the room talking about the same subject matter, often in ways more elaborate and more familiar. Mark is the text before us, but Matthew, Luke and John are also in the room. Each has a right to be heard.
Ash Wednesday is a day of penitence marking the beginning of Lent, a journey of 40 days to Good Friday and Easter. It's a time of recalling our mortality (“ashes to ashes”), repenting of wrongs, and preparing for death and resurrection, both of Christ and of ourselves.
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