Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Glory of these Forty Days - a Sermon

If you were here on Ash Wednesday, you would have sung a hymn that we don’t get to sing all that often.  “The glory of these forty days we celebrate with songs of praise..."

Glory?  What glory?  This is Lent we’re talking about.  You going to find glory in giving something up?  Or taking something on?  IF we even did that.  Now, let’s see a show of hands -- and be honest -- who gave something up or took something on?  

Thought so.  

Oh, but maybe the song’s not talking about us.  It says, “for Christ, through whom all things were made, himself has fasted and has prayed.”  So, the glory is in Jesus being driven out into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he fasted and prayed.  By the way, when it says “driven”, Mark uses the same word he uses later when Jesus drives the mone changers from the temple.  It’s pretty violent and not at all glorious.

Or Noah in today’s old testament -- glory?  The earth was destroyed.  He sat in a boat filled with animals.  Where’s the glory in that?  

Now the hymn mentions a few other characters who are not in today’s lessons.  Maybe they’ll help explain that word “Glory” as applied to these 40 days we’ve just entered.

Moses on the mountain.  Another 40 day sojourn -- not to mention a 40 year traipse through the wilderness.  Well, he got the commandments, but he also got the whining Israelites.  Others mentioned in the hymn don’t have 40 days to their credit, but they do have something in common with Jesus, Moses and Noah.  Elijah had to hide from the king for a long time for fear of being killed.  The prophet Daniel, as you might remember from Sunday School, was thrown into a lion’s den for praying to God.  And John the Baptist lived in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of Christ -- until he was arrested, that is.

So what’s up with the glory?  Well, glory itself is an interesting word. From Hebrew which  means, among other things, weight.  As in, significance.  Gravity.

So these forty days have weight.  They certainly had weight for Jesus.  Though Mark just says he was tempted, in other gospels you hear how Satan tempted him to be more than what he had come to be -- more popular, more powerful, more prestigious.  For Jesus, that time in the wilderness was a sorting out process.  What will he do with his time here?  How will he see his mission?

As it turns out, that time fasting and praying IS the glorious part of these 40 days.  It has gravity because it’s that time when we remind ourselves to turn to God, when we remind ourselves that without him, none of the rest of our lives has meaning.  Like Noah, adrift with animals and his little family -- but bereft of all the rest of society.  I can only imagine he sat there often wondering what the point was.

That’s not so different from us, is it?  Often we feel adrift, don’t we?  Or lost in the desert.  The problems of the world seems so big.  Sometimes just our own are overwhelming, let alone the huge problems that circle the globe and seem more than we can even contemplate.

Then we are left with fasting and prayer.  

So the glory of these forty days is that they point us back to the thing we need most -- God.  They give us the medicine we need to get through our desert or drifting times -- fasting and prayer.  Prayer is obvious -- communion with God.  But fasting, too, because it strips away all the unnecessary things in our lives -- even down to food itself because our purpose is not to consume, it is to be with God.  Our purpose is not merely to exist but to LIVE.

Because at the end of those 40 days, there is the promise of a rainbow, or resurrection.  They promise that even in the midst of death, God is with us and promises to hold us through it all -- and walk with us until it is our time to pass through the veil of death into eternal life.

That’s why we begin the season of Lent with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  To remind us we are not God -- but that we can always turn to him.  And in turning to him in prayer, aided by fasting, we find him and in finding him we find anew the purpose in our lives -- and the strength to live them.

“Then grant us Lord, like them to be, full oft in fast and prayer with thee, our spirits strengthen with thy grace, and give us joy to see thy face.” Amen.