Last evening a crowd gathered at Christ Church to commemorate the end of Epiphany with a huge party. We ate pancakes and bacon and sausage (which was the hit of the evening). A few folks talked about what they might give up for Lent. Some were going to log-off Facebook for the 40 days of Lent. Others talked about eating better, or living a more regimented lifestyle.
Isn’t it interesting how we’ve turned a season like Lent into something very self-centered. We have come to think of it as a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. “Now, I’ll definitely go to the gym more!” we tell ourselves. Or, “Here’s my chance to get better organized.”
This is not what we hear in the reading from Isaiah today.
Yes, Lent is a time when we reflect on our mortality. We remember that we are but dust. It is indeed a season in the church year for self-reflection and working toward goals of self-improvement, but that’s not all Lent should mean to us.
“Why do we fast?” Isaiah asks his audience. It seems there were those in his day who took occasions such as a public fast to increase their standing in the eyes of their peers, but in reality were treating the poor and those beneath them even worse.
Isaiah calls for some radical practices during such times: “Loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house. When you see the naked, cover them.” Isaiah is calling Israel, and us, to not use such seasons as fasting to make it all about ourselves, but to look the world and seek justice, to bring about the kingdom of God, here, now! This is no small undertaking. Change, real change, comes one action at a time. If we are convinced our lifestyles need to change, then we must consider such a radical change as this. In the words of Gandhi, be the change you wish to see in the world.
And then comes this last line, “Hide not yourself from your own kin!” This is quite a curious statement to me. Of course, Isaiah’s primary meaning is to remind us that we are related to all those whom we might choose to neglect. The poor and the naked are our family. But in our context I wonder if it doesn’t also mean to reconnect with our families. Have those conversations you’ve been avoiding. Be bold, but also loving. Be the change in your family that you wish to see.
It is after all these things that Isaiah uses this language, “THEN your light shall break forth like the dawn! THEN you shall call and the Lord will answer! Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations.”
These images of restoration, of rebuilding walls, restoring breaches, bringing peace and safety – these are the images of the kingdom of God that we should take forward with us into Lent. Yes, Lent is a good opportunity for us to get our lives in order, to clean our houses, sweep out our closets. But let us also look outside our immediate surroundings and consider in what way we can bring God’s kingdom, even to just a few of the lives whose paths cross ours, be they family, friends or even strangers.
Let us remember that we are mortal. We are but dust. But let us also remember that God has called us to be the Body of Christ in this world, broken and offered as a sacrifice. It is then that we shall see our light rise in the darkness, and our gloom will become like the noonday. Amen