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  • Seasons of the Spirit: A Lenten Reflection

    On Ash Wednesday we enter the six weeks of Lent, leading us to Holy Week and its attendant journey through Maundy Thursday, Good, Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. During these forty days of Lent, we are to take time to reflect upon our spiritual lives, finding ways to help us identify and release the thoughts, actions, and habits that keep us separated from God’s great love and connection reaching out to us.    

    During Lent we are invited to ponder our “missing the mark” in the things we do and have done, as well as the things we have left undone, recognizing the realities that keep us distant from the transforming power of God’s forgiveness and love.  

    During this Lent, our ministerial team is focusing our services around the themes of the seven deadly sins. The purpose of this is not to dwell upon our shortcomings, but to understand more fully the way these keep us blocked from the grace and unconditional love of God. As James Baldwin wrote,” nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Facing the truth of ourselves can be a difficult task, especially as the mirror being held up to us shows what we would rather deny or project onto others.  

    Facing our shortcomings— missing a dinner we had planned to attend, sleeping through a service we intended to take in, not returning a call for which we were sure we would have time while the day slipped away— takes a kind of courage to face into and admit our humanity. As we admit our imperfections, we feel vulnerable and are reminded that we are not in complete control at all times. We stand in need of forgiveness, love, and care even when we have not earned it.  

    Lent may be a time for us to practice letting go of the pretense that there is no part of us that has a resistance to being served, loved, and to needing forgiveness. Part of me wants to deserve love and earn love. Part of me wants to work hard for that love because then I feel safer and more in control. 

    For me, one of the most powerful scenes in our Lenten journey is the foot washing that Jesus instituted in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday.   

    Let us imagine placing ourselves there in that room. How would you feel as you look down upon Jesus at your feet? We know from scripture that Peter was honest enough not to pretend that he could tolerate it. For many, Peter’s horror uncovers their own. It is one thing to look up to Jesus. It is altogether another thing to look down to see him looking up at us asking to wash our feet.  

    Letting another wash us raises the issue of dependence and entrusting ourselves completely to the touch and care of another’s hands. Perhaps only when we were babies, or when we had been sick and unable to move, or released into the loving touch of our dearest beloved, perhaps only then have we been completely in the care and touch of another. Most of us flee from Jesus as he comes to us with basin and towel. We feel the need to preserve our craving to be in control of ourselves. Jesus asks us to have enough trust in him to allow him to serve us in such a humble way.  

    Deep inside, we know that we cannot celebrate a genuine Easter without allowing God to work within us the power of resurrection. The self-sufficient, the proud and haughty, those ‘in control’ at all times, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, they will have no need of Easter. Only those who need to be washed, who need someone to come on their behalf will have that someone. That someone is Jesus, coming to us in the most humble of ways. And asking us to love one another in such a way as he is demonstrating for us in this act of loving care.  

    “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me,” Jesus reminds us. 

    This Lent he asks us to allow him to wash us clean of the things that keep us separated from him. Today what will happen if I allow him to wash away my sure and certain ideas about how some other people are “less” than me. Today he may wash away the slights that I have saved up and my grievances I have allowed to build up. Today he may wash away the certainties and control I live with which never allow for the possibility that love would change them and free me. Perhaps as all of this is washed away, I will be left shaken and wanting. Perhaps I will realize the gratitude I have that Jesus will come to me to restore my life, my soul, and my ability to “love one another”, as his deep love shows me.  

    “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,”

    Peter exclaims when he sees how Jesus is calling for him to accept his love and service. Will I consent this Lent to Jesus washing away the daily grime of my frustrations, struggles, resentments, and mistakes? Will I allow this washing to make me ready to accept God’s grace and forgiveness, and create in me a clean heart? I pray that I may take this opportunity again and release the constant pull to just “do it myself”—as if that could actually be accomplished by me alone.  

    Will this be the year that I can look down at Jesus, humbly looking up at me, ever ready to wash and serve me? I need you to give me a fresh receptivity to the unconditional love you have for me and others, O God. Help me understand it is the way I can truly experience a resurrection on Easter Sunday.  

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC); and Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church of Winchester, (UCC)