Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Journey to Justice”
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Grounded as I am in the northern hemisphere, during the six weeks of Lent I get to watch winter turn to spring. Ash Wednesday generally falls on one of the bleakest days of the waning winter and even if the sun shines, it will be cold. Wrapping up my understanding of repentance and reconciliation with the seasons of the year calls attention to the truth that all our understandings and misunderstandings develop within a context. Even if my friends in Cape Town, South Africa, or Fremantle, Australia, understand my Lenten analogy, it’s not the one they use. For them, exactly the opposite is happening—summer is giving way to fall and Easter will come at a time that feels like my October. They have come up with a different way to narrate the move from sin to grace and death to life; when I hear their reasoning, it will enhance my own.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he tells us a truth for both hemispheres: “now is the acceptable time; . . . now is the day of salvation!” Even as we enter into this season of austerity, we know the end game is resurrection—the Alleluias will return to our refrains, the paraments will be cleaned, the stripped altar will be dressed again, bread and wine will appear upon it and we will shout together, “The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed.” Paul is telling us, all of this has already happened. We can live as though we will never be poor; we can live as though we won’t die.
That’s not as radical as it sounds. To live as though we will never be poor is to be willing to share, to have enough and then make sure those around us also have enough. When we listen to the poor, those of us who are not so poor and oh so rich can learn a lot about wealth. What we learn from the poor can enhance our understandings about wealth.
To live as though we will never die is to know we will die and no longer be afraid. A quick survey of our fears generally leads back to death. We add locks to the doors and guns to the bedside table to convince ourselves we’re safe and we use everything from creams to surgery to convince ourselves we’re not getting older. Hearing from those who know something about death can enhance our understandings about life.
Paul understands there is more to know than we have learned from our own experiences. His experience informs him that the world’s definitions of oppression, imprisonment, obscurity, and even death, are not the definitions God employs. For the next 40 days we have the chance to see winter give way to spring (apologies to the southern hemisphere readers), poverty give way to wealth, and death give way to life. If we watch carefully we might enhance our understanding of ourselves.