A favorite Old Testament passage comes from the lips of the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls….’” Jeremiah spoke these words to a nation very much in upheaval. They stood on the brink of socio-political collapse. Of exile to a foreign nation already breathing their hot, lusty breath down their necks. Their faith had collapsed. Now, it seemed immanent that their very society would do the same.
One precludes the other.
Faith is secured in community, developed in relationship, deepened through shared ritual and nourished through soul practices. This is as true for individuals as it is for communities and even nations. If ever there were a time in which we can give ourselves permission to dim the lights of our high-powered lives and check the gauges for levels it is Lent.
For years I lived out my faith in church communities for whom the Lenten journey meant little or nothing in real terms. We spent much of our time learning how to develop life-skills packaged in the terminology of faith that could help us thrive in the white-hot cultural environment that was, in fact, slowly killing us. Basically, it was like familiarizing ourselves with the boa constrictor whose ever-tightening grip was stealing from us our very lives.
When given a choice between saying hello to drowning waves or reaching for God’s steady hand stretched out above them that might lift us above those same waves, many prefer to learn how to tread water and call it faith. From my present perspective, I would suggest that I had simply learned to make friends with the very environment Jesus seeks to transform. There is no sin in this. And even Jesus knew how to live, move and have his being among the stultifying spiritual milieu of his own Pharisaical, Roman-occupied Palestine.
But, he didn’t accept it as normative.
Jesus came to show us the way of then-in-light-of-now-in-hope-of-then. His words and way not only brought others to their own crossroads, but as they began to see how damaging it had become to their souls living lives stuck in a ‘now’ that was built on an unforgiving misunderstanding of their own past, they began to throw caution to the wind and follow this strange Rabbi.
Jesus reinterpreted the glorious past of God’s people in light of grace and in hope of glory. They were invited to walk ancient paths in new ways for renewed purposes. So are we. He taught them to rejoice in the foundational promises of a covenant-keeping God but through new eyes. As he does for us. The Law as they knew it would always be a guide, but made fresh, new and alive as it became actualized, fulfilled, in the person of Jesus, the living Word.
Today, I serve a church that fully embraces the Lenten journey as something meant to refresh and revive ancient things in new ways. With as much intentionality and purpose as we are able, we are inviting Christ into those crossroads places where we are confronted with difficult choices; choices that could ultimately take us to cultural acquiescence and a dry, calcified faith, or to the shining face of freedom.
“Gracious, life-giving God, take us to our own crossroads this Lent. When we get there, show us where we have simply laid down and given in to the life prescribed for us by our own demand for more, for bigger, for shinier, for mine. Instead, lift us anew to see the life of eternity awaiting us if we but grasp your hand and see what is already unfolding before us in your renewal of all things. Through the Gospel of grace, transform us into a people who are seeking to reinterpret our present through our past toward a glorious future. Make it so, Holy One. Make it so.”