Lenten reflections: barbecue, power, and weakness

One of my goals for 2016 is to live by liturgical time. Although I suppose “goal” is the wrong word, as it’s not something I intend to accomplish, but rather a way of being that I want to introduce into my life. I started thinking seriously about this around Advent season, and wrote about how I was trying to frame our lives around this season in the church calendar rather than around the consumerism of Christmas. 


Understanding that this “goal” is a work in progress, I think we got off to a decent start. To help focus our minds on the suffering who are crying out to see Jesus’ presence, we had Middle Eastern food as our Christmas Eve meal (which entailed trekking to a speciality market, and eventually ordering take out from a Middle Eastern restaurant - like I said, work in progress). We said prayers for Syrian refugees, asking that our small gesture of solidarity be multiplied in the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. 


I kept up the big sheet of “thankfulness” butcher paper, and we’ve continued to add things to it that we’re thankful for. 


I didn’t hit all of the 12 Days of Christmas (for the last few I was already at Chaplain School!) but we did read through the majority of the days as a family, and come up with ways to live out each day’s lesson, whether donating time, money, or resources. 


Observing Epiphany was a bit easier since I was mostly on my own at Chaplain School and therefore didn’t have to come up with ways to make it a family affair! 


Then Lent snuck up on me. 


I resist the inclination that Lent is only about giving something up. I’ve curtailed our Friday night tradition of barbecue takeout for the six weeks of Lent … but why? 


Lent is about the symbolism of joining Christ in his wilderness experience. Fittingly, but completely unplanned, I’ve been reading Rudolph Bultmann’s Kerygma and Myth wherein Bultmann posits a theology focused heavily on symbolism. His project is to get at the kernel of truth - the kerygma - hidden in or symbolized by the instances in scripture he refers to as mythology: the virgin birth, the empty tomb, the resurrection. He doesn’t use “myth” to mean that these stories aren’t true, but rather as a way to define the mystical components of Christianity and highlight the importance of understanding what they  mean. 


In similar terms, I’ve been asking myself: what does it mean that Christ was mystically brought face-to-face with Satan? What does it mean that he resisted temptation? What does it mean that he spent 40 days alone in the wilderness? 


What are the kernels of truth that these events symbolize? 


One of the things I believe about scripture is that it is dynamic. That the spirit continues to move through it to make it relevant to our time. That we are still called to uncover kernels of truth that point to Christ’s message of love, redemption, and renewal. If I’m focusing on joining Christ, I’m not just focused on giving things up, or adding things in. Yes, I’ve come up with ways to do both those things throughout this Lenten season, but if I stop there, the news of Easter morning doesn’t fully connect. 


Deprivation is a good daily reminder of the symbolism of Christ’s wilderness experience. Adding spiritual practices to our daily routine is a good reminder of how we, too, may resist temptation. What I’m struggling to uncover is the connection between these actions and the kernel of truth to which it should point. 


I think at least part of the meaning, the kerygma, the kernel behind Christ’s wilderness journey that we commemorate during Lent is the simultaneous power and weakness exhibited in Jesus as the Christ. Fittingly, this is the same incongruous combination that we see on Good Friday and Easter morning. 


In what ways are our Lenten activities helping us join Christ in the weakness of the Suffering Servant? In what ways are they getting us closer to bringing the power of God’s kingdom into our world? 


If I can’t answer these questions, I’m just not eating barbecue for six weeks.