Restoration, renewal, and resurrection
The world seems to hunger for certainty, to have things tied down, under control. And when the ‘thing’ – the current concern, the situation – becomes too big for our limited, fearful imaginations, we distract ourselves by focusing on the details (relevant or not) and leave the big picture, God’s vision, to fend for itself. Thankfully, God is not limited by our limitations.
The season of Lent and the traditions associated with Lent is the church’s way of inviting us to pay attention to our individual and collective failures of grace and imagination. It is a sombre and solemn season, that demands serious engagement and requires us to get real about faith and life. I think that it requires us to face up to things that we have generally preferred to sweep under the nearest carpet. In other words, Lent is not a feel-good season. It’s not susceptible to the Hallmark treatment and can’t be summarised in sentiment.
The public conversation about the Voice to Parliament and the constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Peoples is illustrative. We know, and have known for a very long time, about the violence and oppression which is part of the history of this country. We know about the impact of policies that created the Stolen Generations and the impact that experience had on First Peoples. We know about Aboriginal deaths in custody and we know about continuing disproportional rates of Aboriginal incarceration.
We know about Aboriginal life expectancy and the very mixed effectiveness of ‘Closing the Gap’ initiatives. It’s easy enough to come up with this list – what it doesn’t capture are the personal stories of generational pain and trauma which have left deep scars on the soul of a whole people. And yet we’ve been generously invited into this journey with First Peoples through the Statement from the Heart. The Voice to Parliament is one step along that journey.
Tragically, the experience of Australian First Peoples is common among Indigenous people all over the world. I read recently about the journey for healing – the ‘trail of tears’ – undertaken by the Lakota people of north America. This was a ‘voluntary act of penance undertaken in an effort to restore the sacred hoop of their people, and to pray for the healing of Grandmother Earth.’ The journey was undertaken in blizzard conditions when the temperature was -24oF. Their destination was the graves of those who had died at Wounded Knee. I find it simply extraordinary that the Lakota, a people who have had to drink the cup of suffering over many generations, should voluntarily take on yet more suffering in their search for healing and restoration or feel any need for penance given what they’ve experienced. Their story is an uncomfortable reminder for all of us.
The Lenten journey towards Jerusalem and Holy Week is the church’s ‘trail of tears’. Lent call us to face the facts of our – individual and collective – lives.
To quote a familiar prayer,
“…we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,
we have broken your holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to have done,
and we have done those things which we ought not to have done…”
My experience worshipping in different congregations over the last few years is that there seems to be a trend towards a Lent-lite, reflected in the absence of any recognisable prayer of confession and a general tendency to downplay the necessity of repentance. While this might be understandable – no one wants to face uncomfortable truths – it’s also dishonest. Any number of biblical stories point to repentance being the necessary prelude to transformation and reconciliation (check out the Prodigal Son story as an obvious example). Repentance is not optional, it’s foundational.
We should all be concerned if there really is a trend towards Lent-lite. It may be painful to face facts and fears, but it is the only way to strip away the deceits by which we hide from ourselves, from each other and from God. It is the gateway to restoration and renewal and, ultimately, resurrection.
Have a blessed Easter!
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