It is a little hard to believe that it has been months since I last blogged. It had become for me a release, a way to sort things out. But, while on internship, blogging took a back seat to real life. And even though my internship ended in November I haven’t found the desire to pick it back up, at least not until now.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and Lent has a way of helping us keep one eye focused on the present while the other strains toward what is to come, to the hope that lies ahead. But, as helpful as looking ahead can be, looking to the past is just as important. The past doesn’t define you and I yet it has undoubtedly shaped who we are. It is my past that has brought me to my present, about ten weeks from finally graduating from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
I never thought I would have pride for the sem the way I do. Sure my time has been fraught with struggles and tears, but I could not be prouder of the faculty I have studied under and of the faculties and graduates that served and studied long before I ever set foot on campus. That is the thing about the past, the thing I cannot seem to shake, it reminds us that we aren’t the first. More than that, though, looking to the past reminds me that I am part of something bigger than myself. It is something that served generations before I took a breath and something that will continue to serve generations long after I breathe my last. History has a way of setting the context, of reminding me of where and when I sit and what that means for the present and the future.
That is true of my legacy of a future alum of Concordia Seminary and of my place within the Church. There are those who have gone before and those who will come after, I didn’t invent the Church, nor does it belong to me, rather, I am a part of her on account of the work of the Holy Spirit who has called, gathered, and enlivened the faith of all who belong to Christ and His Church. But, what difference does it make to think of the Church this way? What I mean is, how does understanding the church this way change the way I act? Well, I could wax and wane about what it means to be ecumenical. As Martin Franzmann once said, “The church, if it lives in obedience to its Lord, is not “also” ecumenical; it is ecumenical by definition since the Lord of the church is ecumenical — Lord of all that call upon his name” (Grace Under Pressure, St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1966, 3).
But, on a day like today, words about demonstrating the unity that exists between all Christians seem to be fruitless despite the validity of such a claim. Why? Because like I said, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Amidst all the statuses and thoughts about who is giving up what and why I think it is helpful to remember that Lent isn’t about us, but about those who have gone before. Lent is something that has served the Church throughout the ages to remember who they are and what they would be without what comes at Lent’s end, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although I have hopes of my own to give things up, or in the case of this blog to pick things back up, for Lent thinking of it only in terms of ourselves and what we want to get out of it betrays the legacy it has. Lent isn’t about you or me, it is about the Church. What good is it to give something up for Lent if it only benefits myself?
All over the world today people will receive ashes, more often than not on their forehead. And as those ashes are being placed there will be some variation of the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And while that is an intensely private penitential moment, if we think those words are only about us as individuals we once again miss the point. Dust is not simply our own individual fate, it is the fate of every single person who has ever and will ever have breath. Death is one of the few things that binds all of humanity together as it is our common end. Today as we remember that we are dust let us remember that it truly is we and not just me. That is what Lent reminds us of, that is the point of giving things up, not simply to teach us something about ourselves, but to remind us of who we are as humanity. That all of us are broken. That all of us do things that are of no help to others. That all of us live for our own ends and enjoyments. That all of us have no hope if not for the hope that lies ahead on Good Friday and Easter.
Lent belongs to the Church, and only to the Church, because Lent is about the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. My favorite hymn of all time isn’t that old in the life of the Church as it has only been around since the 19th century. Whatever else it may stand for, the hymn communicates something about what it means to be the Church, what it means to belong to the Church, and what it means for the Church to live and breathe from one generation to the next. And so, as Lent begins I give back to the Church what gives me strength, because in the end, the Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord…