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Thursday, February 27, 2014

TBT - A vision of Lent (1999) with thoughts for each week

I wrote this for my parish in 1999, another "Year A" in the lectionary. It's an overview of Lent, with a quick paragraph for each Lenten Sunday intended to be a window into that day's liturgy of the word.

God's beloved daughters and sons
Remembering who we are
by Rory Cooney
Copyright © 1999

In Walt Disney's animated film The Lion King, Simba, the young son of Muphasa, the lion king, gets tricked by his uncle Scar into disobeying his father's orders. His disobedience is indirectly responsible (he thinks) for his father's death. Shamed and confused, young Simba leaves the pride and goes off on a journey of forgetting. Joining with new friends in the savanna, he lives an unlionly life of ease, and eats unlionly food like grubs and insects. By listening to Scar and not his father, he became both a victim of Scar's jealousy and willfully disobedient. He tried to forget who he was, the son of the Lion King. Only the intervention of his childhood playmate Nala and the baboon shaman Rafiki allowed him to finally remember his father's voice and his own destiny. Remembering who he was allowed him to overcome his shame and face Scar, and finally to come to be the Lion King.

Lent is a time for remembering who we are. The forty days of Lent are part of a ninety-day celebration in the church surrounding the Triduum, the three days that recall the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Triduum opens the door to the celebration of Easter, which we observe with a jubilee 'week' of eight Sundays. The liturgical high point of the ninety days is the Easter Vigil, at which the church baptizes her catechumens, anoints them with chrism, and brings them to the table of Jesus for the first time. On that same night and at every Easter Sunday liturgy, all of us renew the baptismal vow that we made, or that was made for us, to be God's anointed, God'sChrist, in our world. During the forty days of Lent, we are invited to look closely at our lives and see whether there are other voices to which we have been listening, other gods whose empty promises have lured us away from our true destiny and have let us block out the voice of the One who calls us out of darkness into marvelous light.

Before our baptism, God has called us to a great destiny: to join the mission of reconciliation by which the destructive effects of sin upon the earth and upon the human family will be reversed in a new creation. The human face of that creation is Jesus Christ. Jesus, at his own baptism by John, hears the voice that is calling him to this very same mission declaring, "This is my son, my beloved." That voice and that mission consume him, and he is faithful to it during his desert sojourn when another voice promises "all this will I give you if you will fall down and worship me." "The Lord alone is God," replies Jesus, "him alone shall you serve." Jesus remembers who he is, and whose he is, holds to the voice that calls him "beloved." The sound of that voice, the name "beloved" sustains him through his darkest hours, and brings him on Easter morning out of his own grave.

Recently, I took my children to see The Prince of Egypt, which is the somewhat romanticized but still powerful story of the journey of Moses. A Hebrew and yet the adopted son of the Pharaoh, Moses too in the court of Pharaoh begins to forget who he is. By a series of encounters, first with his future wife Tzipporah and later with Miriam and Aaron, his brother and sister, he begins to see the oppression of the Hebrews by the Egyptians for what it is. Murdering an Egyptian overseer, Moses flees into the desert in a self-imposed exile, where he meets Jethro, Tzipporah's father, at an oasis. Jethro sees in his son-in-law more than Moses sees in himself, and sings a wonderful song at the wedding of Moses and Tzipporah around the desert campfire with his family. He sings:
A lake of gold in the desert sand is less than a cool fresh spring,
And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy is greater than the richest king.
If a man lose everything he owns has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning of a new a brighter birth?
So how do you measure the worth of man in wealth or strength or size?
In how much he gained or how much he gave?
The answer will come to him who tries
To look at his life through heaven's eyes.
 "Through Heaven's Eyes," by Stephen Schwartz. Copyright © 1998 DWA Songs
To see ourselves as God sees us, as beloved sons and daughters, is to begin to imagine how we ought to act, and what we might become. We begin to remember that our enemies, people we don't know, the poor and forgotten, and people yet unborn are also God's beloved sons and daughters, and we see that many of our habits and ways of acting need to be changed. God calls us to the mission of reconciliation, the mission whose fullness can be seen in the story of Pentecost. There, in the fullness
of Easter time, the whole world hears the good news in its own language, and the damage of sin symbolized by the scattering of peoples from Babel is healed. This Lent, let us prepare to renew our baptismal promises earnestly. Let us remember who we are, called by God into union with Christ for the mission of reconciliation.

            Who is my servant? Where is she?
            My light to the nations, where is he
            In prison and palace my gospel who told,
            And living, my gospel became?
            This is my servant whom I shall uphold:
            His name is Christ is her name.

            Who answers to slander with silence
            And vengeance returns not for violence?
            Whose presence is healing for young and for old,
            To friend and to stranger the same?
            This is my servant whom I shall uphold:
            His name is Christ is her name.
 (from "Servant Song," by Rory Cooney, © 1987 Epoch/NALR)

Lenten Bulletin fervorinos

Ash Wednesday:
Remember that you are dust -- Is that so bad?
The phrase we hear on Ash Wednesday is from Genesis 3, and sounds a little harsh to us. But should it? When we're not in denial about the fragility of our life, we can begin to hear that we are dust as the truth about us. And it's pretty good news, as we read in Genesis. What God can do with dust is make children, God's own beloved sons and daughters!

First Sunday of Lent:
Forty days to listen, remember, and decide

Jesus, having heard the Father's voice at his baptism, is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There he endures the same tests that Israel, God's chosen people, had endured in the desert: their physical hunger, their desire to test God, and the lure of idolatry. Unlike Israel, Jesus responds to his being chosen as God's beloved faithfully. He says "yes" to the election that will shape his identity and ministry. In Lent, we have the same opportunity. Will our lives be shaped by the voice that calls us "Beloved," or by the empty promises whispered by the other voice in the mocking wind?

Second Sunday of Lent:
A glimpse of what might be: the future tasted now!

"Look at the stars, and count them, if you can! That is the number of your descendants." God, faithful to the promise made to his beloved children, gives them a glimpse of their future. Jesus, too, facing the journey on which he will confront the powers that will destroy him, is given a glimpse of the glory that God gives to God's own. The radiant love of children lightens the tedium and frustration of parenting; the tenderness, security, and gifts of a parent's love lightens the frightening burden of childhood. It's not just light at the end of the tunnel: there is light in the darkness because God is with us.

Third Sunday of Lent:
Thirsting for reconciliation: The Beloved know the voice of the Seventh Lover

Jesus and the woman at the well share their thirsts and risk an encounter with a stranger. In today's gospel, the woman, like Samaria and its people, has given her life over to six lovers who are less than the perfect match. The mystic biblical number, the seventh lover, is right before her eyes. The woman and her people choose to quench their thirst with the living water of the gospel. Can we too lay aside our prejudices and comfort with lesser gods, and choose to live the gospel in harmony with all of God's children, even our apparent enemies? It is that choice that turns the elect -- and other seekers -- into apostles.

Fourth Sunday of Lent:
Seeing through heaven's eyes: the chosen and the holy are rarely what they seem!

In the words of the Church father Tertullian, Christians are made, not born. God chooses a people, but we only truly act like God's beloved when we respond to God's election by living a life of right relationships with God and neighbor. God's vision sees beyond names and human value to the heart of us. It is not always the humanly-declared 'sacred' that marks God's presence, nor is the human 'reject' a sign of God's absence. Today we pray with our elect to walk as God's beloved in Christ's light, the light of God's reign of justice and truth, and to see clearly with heaven's eyes.

Fifth Sunday of Lent:
To death, and "fates worse than death," one answer: "Lazarus, beloved friend, come out!"

Ezekiel weeps over the killing fields where the dry bones of Israel lie bleaching in the sun; Jesus weeps at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. We weep over our own mortality when we confront it honestly and don't live in denial by accumulating possessions or nursing addictions to pleasure, power, or narcotics. But even death will not hold God's beloved in its bands: the voice of Christ bids us up from all of our tombs, and we, the living, hear his cry to roll away the stone so that God's glory may be seen when God's breath enters clay once again.

Passion Sunday:
The wages of grace: God's beloved servant surrenders his life

Faithful to the last, Jesus holds to the vision of his election as God's beloved before the human powers in Jerusalem. His rejection of religious law that isolates rather than unites, that creates insiders and outsiders, his insistence that God's rule limits and shrinks the boasts of human authority, his claim of a special relationship to God while uniting himself with the losers and rejects of his nation, all these have led him into the hands of his enemies. Their verdict: capital punishment. We know the outcome for Jesus. Does that knowledge in faith give us the courage to live as he did? Can we renew our baptismal commitment with integrity when asked to do so next week? God is faithful; the call is renewed. How will we respond after this forty days?

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