Rector's Blog: For The Unprepared
We are in the midst of Holy Week, and Easter is upon us, and that can only mean one thing for me: I have failed at another Lent. It has become my new tradition, failing at Lent. I cannot seem to get it together for this season of penitence, fasting, and devotion. I have not been able to consistently give something up for years, I am literally eating a sleeve of Thin Mints while I write this blog – a blog that I was supposed to write a week ago. It’s fair to say I did not become a better Christian in the 6 weeks.
Really, nothing makes me feel like more of a failure as a Christian than Lent – which is funny since I am terrible at turning the other cheek, loving my enemy, praying for those who persecute me, refraining from judging others – all explicit directives of Jesus himself. My failure at these just makes me shrug and say, “nobody’s perfect.” But my inability to achieve a productive Lent, that 40-day feat of faithfulness – the one that Jesus had never heard of – somehow makes me feel guilty.
This happens, of course, because I keep thinking Lent is about being better, about self-improvement. But it’s not. Lent is about Jesus.
So, let’s look at Jesus.
I’m interested particularly in how Jesus showed up to work in this world. The Gospel stories tell of John the Baptist, a voice in the wilderness crying to all who will listen, “Prepare a way for the Lord!” After which Jesus shows up, and nobody is prepared. Nobody. They want help, they yearn for deliverance, they are desperate for salvation, but they seem consistently unsure of what to do with Jesus. This savior shows up to a people unprepared. Ready but unprepared.
I think often of the man who asks Jesus to heal his son, “If you are able,” he says. “If you are able?” Jesus echoes to the man who is desperate but unprepared. “All things can be done for the one who believes!” To which the man immediately responds, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” I believe. And also, I unbelieve. I’m a mess and am not prepared for who and what you are to this world. Of course, Jesus heals the son. Because Jesus lives for the unprepared.
Likewise, Jesus dies for the unprepared. The disciples could not believe it was possible even though he told them multiple times that he’d be killed for the way he loved the world. We still cannot believe it. We continue to be scandalized by his decision to subject himself to the worst of what we are. We know the centurion who aided in his crucifixion, only to stand unprepared for what Jesus’ death would mean for him. “Surely he was innocent,” he said to himself, yearning for something else to be true.
“Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus said while he was dying for us, who are unprepared for the enormity of God’s love.
During one of Melanie’s recent sermons, she quoted Maya Angelou, who wrote, “"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." So, we’ve been unprepared for Jesus’ love, but shouldn’t we know better by now? After 2000 years, shouldn’t we know better? And consequently do better? And isn’t that what this Lenten season is for? I want to say yes. Who wants to argue with Maya Angelou? Not me. I know Jesus wants us to do better. But does Jesus actually think we can be better? That we can become better? And if so, how much? Is there a right amount of better? Is our entire mission on this planet to engage in incremental improvements until we die?
Do we, who killed Jesus, and would kill him again if we could, ever really know what we are doing? Or are we still as hopeless as that poor, useless centurion and his poor, useless utterance?
On the third day, Jesus is raised up. Nobody is prepared for that either! His friends don’t even recognize him when they see him, and we have come up with a lot of theological reasons for this, but in the simplest terms, they thought he was dead. They were simply unprepared for the power and magnitude of God’s faithfulness. Jesus is raised for the unprepared. God is never through with us. Ever. We believe: help us in our unbelief.
Whether we fail or succeed at Lent, Jesus shows up. We do not conjure him with our self-discipline. Neither do we dissuade him with our weakness. Jesus is prepared to love us as we are. That is the truest thing I know.
Tags: Rector's Blog