The 90 Days
by Rory Cooney
Copyright © 2000
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone?
They pave paradise, put up a parking lot. (Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi")
Whether it's the natural beauty of the world that you're missing, or the lover that just left in the '"big
The Church's springtime ritual of the Ninety Days of Lent and Easter is about those living stones. Here and now, thousands of years after God called Abram and Sarai out of their 'comfort zone' and pointed them toward an impossible promise, God still calls individuals, life by life, family by family, to make a New People. We see every week at 10:45 mass the witness of God's call as our catechumens gather with us, then leave with our blessing. Now their time of Christian apprenticeship is drawing to a close, and in the wonderful womb of the church, from a virgin font that has never before been used for this purpose, they will, on that "night truly blessed," the Vigil of Easter, be plunged into the death of Christ, and be reborn a new creation. All around them and us on that night, a new building that we will call "church" will give us a home and shelter for our prayer. But it is the church within that is the focus of all of this divine energy. A few moments after they arise from those waters and are anointed (Christ-ed) with the oil of confirmation and thus sealed with the Holy Spirit, we will all be called to renew the promises of our baptism, to reject sin and put our faith in God and the Christ, surrendering to their Holy Spirit. Then we shall lead them to the table, and share with them the meal that we are commanded to take in memory of Jesus, and we shall be challenged again to remember who Jesus is, and carry on his mission.
How shall we go about preparing for that Easter day, when we will promise again most solemnly to live as Christ, to live our baptismal identity, not for ourselves, but for the God to whom we belong? What, in fact, does it mean to live as Christ, called, consecrated, and sent? On the morning after the resurrection, John records, Jesus appears to the apostles and breathes on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent me, so I send you." These words are meant to recall the act of creation: God's breath makes a new world, makes life. In that moment, the Church was born. The Spirit that made Jesus messiah, the anointed one or Christ, is now passed over to the Church, giving it messianic anointing. The church receives its mission in the same moment: "as the Father sent me, so I send you." How did the Father send Jesus? What is that mission? It is to announce that the reign of God is here. It was to start a new way of living, so "that all might be one." The mission is to undo the effects of sin, to uncover the lies that separate peoples and make enemies, to remove all the structures that promote division and keep people in any kind of bondage, hunger, or dis-integration.
Unfortunately, we're all born into a world in which the structures of sin are so ancient and inbred that we often aren't even aware that we are participating in those structures. Some of our daily habits of relating, buying and selling, are the very things that keep millions of others from experiencing the fullness of life. Sometimes we have bought our own freedom with the freedom of others. Lent is a time of praying for light and fire. As in the Scrutinies we pray that the Spirit of God will throw light upon the lives of the elect and let them see the structures of sin for what they are that they might be exorcised, we ask God with them that we might see together in a new way that is not prejudiced by our addiction to old structures. Lent is for learning to reject sin and believe in the gospel, and part of that effort is seeing sin for what it is, and learning just what the gospel is all about! Our hope is that this time, the Spirit will help us cut through the familiarity of scripture and ritual and begin to see concrete ways of rejecting the structures of sin and building up structures of grace.
One of those structures is the one built by God of living stones, the temple of spirit and truth that is our Church. Thanks be to God, we have a beautiful new house for the living Church. As we enter those doors on Ash Wednesday, let us pray that we have learned the lesson of the Babylonian Captivity and the "Big Yellow Taxi." When we didn't have a building, we learned what it was that we did have, and what a Church is really made of. Now that we have a building, let's hold on to that knowledge, and pray for a new infusion of light and grace. Then, however beautiful and permanent the building is, it will be a tent that we, the living, take with us wherever we go.
You Have Built Your House - Christ the Icon