Securing Our Place

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

The chief temptation of Lent is not that we will give in to our appetites but that we will enjoy seeing how right we can be. We set out a program of spiritual self-improvement, to fast and give alms, to skip the chocolate or alcohol or meat or TV, to make a few visits to someone who is lonely. Or we do none of those things, knowing that in this way we prove we are not the kind of people who go in for works-righteousness. Either way, we enjoy a chance to try to prove to ourselves that we are good, or at least better than some. We secure our place.

The life of faith is not like that. Read more

Reality Therapy

First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32:1-11
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Lent is as much about seeing well as it is about doing good, which is to say it is about learning to see ourselves as we truly are. It is a kind of reality therapy for the self-deceived and morally apathetic, which is to say, most of us.

It begins on Ash Wednesday by disabusing us of our easy rejections of finitude, reminding us that our destiny, at least penultimately, is to return to the earth from which we have come. In the ensuing 40 days, Lent offers to reveal to us all of those idols that have captured our hearts and diverted our attention from the things that most matter. It confronts us not simply with our self-destructive habits, but with our abject inability to do anything about them. Most importantly, it reminds us that all of our brokenness has been taken up into the grace of the triune God, who through the cross of Jesus makes possible an infinitely better way. Read more

As We Watch

Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

“…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
– Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated August 6, yet the gospel passage itself is closely associated with the beginning of Lent. The Revised Common Lectionary proclaims it on the Sunday before Lent while the Catholic Lectionary does so on the Second Sunday of Lent. Both lectionaries give the First Sunday of Lent over to the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Why should the Transfiguration story – which each of the synoptic gospels places about midway in the course of things – mark our yearly return to the Lenten journey? Standard answers include that the association is already implicit in the synoptic accounts, which place the story near Jesus’ final turn towards Jerusalem; that the Taboric vision is a preview of Christ’s crucified, resurrected, and glorified body; or that the passage links the Old and New Covenants, with Moses and Elijah serving as metonyms for the Law and prophets.

Whatever the explanation, the Transfiguration, with its cryptic signs, wonders, and occasions for awe, has long proved a source for profound theological reflection, fascinating Christological speculation, or incisive literary analysis. It can also stand out from the rest of the gospel narrative as a baffling anomaly. Read more

Identity Politics

First Sunday in Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Luke 4:1-13

This time of year, especially every fourth year, we find ourselves in the US of A faced with representatives of the powers and principalities of this world. They offer to order the nation around things we most want – psychological safety, economic security, access to “someone like me” brokering power – in exchange for allegiance symbolized by a vote. Some even cite Scripture (or attempt to) to make their case, ostensibly as a proxy for shared identity and commitments with a desired bloc of voters.

It’s not so different a scenario from the story that confronts Christians this time of year, every year on the first Sunday in Lent. Jesus is faced with a representative of the powers and principalities of this world who offers authority in exchange for allegiance. The devil even cites Scripture to make his case – for what it’s worth, more accurately than most of the presidential candidates – as part of his test of Jesus’ freshly baptized identity. Read more