Women in Theology is happy to publish another guest post from theologian and educator, Alexis James Waggoner. Waggoner is an adjunct professor and a minister of religious education. Her organization, The Acropolis Project (http://theacropolisproject.com) is dedicated to raising the bar of theological education in communities of faith. She also serves as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves and is passionate about ministering to women in places where they are often marginalized. She has an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary in New York, a husband of 13 years, and a baby named Junia.
I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that made a big deal about Lent – at least not that I remember. What I do remember, insofar as Lent was addressed, was that people often asked each other, “What are you giving up for Lent?” And sometimes you got the sense that they were trying to one-up each other, or at the very least, one-up themselves year over year!
As I’ve come to study and understand Lent a bit more as an adult, and incorporate practices of the church calendar into my life, I’ve realized: Lent isn’t just about “giving something up.”
Lent commemorates Jesus’ time of fasting in the desert prior to beginning his ministry – which is why many practice some form of fasting, but that’s not the point of this time. It’s set aside so we can prepare our hearts and lives for the miracle of Easter.
The unsung hero
And there’s an unsung hero in the stories surrounding Easter that I think can teach us a lot about what our Lenten practice should look like. He appears in Luke 22, in the passage that we now refer to as The Last Supper. Jesus asks his disciples to prepare the Passover meal so they can all eat together, but they’re not sure how to go about this. Jesus tells them:
“When you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.”
This subversive act of radical hospitality has me wondering: Who is this unsuspecting yet accommodating homeowner?! I have so many questions about him: Did he know who “the teacher” was? Was his household anticipating such a large group of people to invade their home? Where did the supplies come from?! Did the man provide those too?! Sure, we’re reading between the lines a bit here, but there are a few things we can learn from this person about how to move our Lenten practice from theoretical to tangible.
Lent as Politics
Whether or not you give something up for Lent, this time is an opportunity to turn our focus away from ourselves, to slow things down a bit, and live contemplatively with a mind to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Yes, a lot of this happens inwardly – in your relationship to God and the posture of your heart. But Lent is more than theoretical. It’s literal, physical, political.
When we celebrate the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we celebrate good news for all people. We celebrate an upheaval of earthly power and a call to subvert injustice. We celebrate the Word made flesh breaking in to our reality, offering us a Light that shines in the darkness so brightly that the darkness cannot over come it.
The unsuspecting homeowner may not have known he was living this truth, but he responded to Christ in his life in a physical way: he lived with an open hand.
Is this what Jesus meant when he said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you”? If Lent is about orienting our hearts toward God and making space for the spiritual, then we better be prepared to give that “space” to those who need it – theoretically and literally.
What am I giving?
So, perhaps the question to ask this Lent instead of “what am I giving up?” is, “what am I giving?” How am I living in a way that I’m available and receptive to the work God is doing in the world? Living, sustainably, with an open hand doesn’t mean giving away more and more without self-care or rejuvenation. This is why Lent is so important. In our endeavors to advance the kingdom in the world, we need to go back to the well. We need to create points of connection with the divine so that we can see the needs of the world, and be equipped to meet them in our own unique ways.
Don’t be intimidated: these don’t have to be grand gestures! We might read the story of the unsuspecting homeowner and think we need to prepare a meal for a dozen-plus people! While you can certainly make a case for that, don’t get sidelined and think you have to start on such a large scale.
Think about the unique corners of the world that you inhabit. As we make space this Lenten season to deepen our relationship with God, how is God inviting you to pour back out into the world? How can we use Lent as a focal point for “celebrating justice” in our spheres of influence?
Perhaps we can use the lessons of the unsuspecting homeowner to create awareness round new opportunities for deepened relationship to God and others.