I was grateful. Our usual mode for Bible story reading is the usual mode for many church-goers: we have a big festival at Christmas to celebrate and adore the baby Jesus, skip over his life and (maybe especially) his death to celebrating his resurrection with all things spring: new life, growth, color. Reading the crucifixion story together was an opportunity. We talked about Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, the way he loved the criminals who were crucified with him, that he was crucified because his love was threatening to people with power – that he hadn’t done anything deserving punishment. And we often talk about what it means to follow Jesus. This story and the conversation about following Jesus were an apt way to begin thinking about the following Jesus into the season of Lent.
We often think of Lent as a time to follow Jesus into the wilderness. We think of the asceticism, the sparseness, of letting things go and giving things up. We associate Lent with fasting and prayer and renunciation. Although the liturgical color of Lent is a rich purple, if Lent were to be characterized by any color, it would (in my mind anyway)be the gray of the ashes we are marked with on Ash Wednesday.
And yet, this year – year B of the three cycles of the lectionary – is markedly colorful. It begins with the multi-hued promise of God to Noah and all creation that God will be present in covenant relationship. That God’s mark of covenant would be the rainbow, a reminder to God like a string around a finger, that God will never again visit such destruction on the earth and that ‘every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth’ is included in covenant with God.
In fact the whole season of Lent is an assurance, turning our usual idea of Lent 'Upside Down and Inside Out'. Using this theme throughout our Lenten worship, Sunday after Sunday, we hear that God’s covenant is for God’s creation – and for us, God’s creatures. We will hear after the rainbow promise the covenant and promise to Abraham and then to the Israelites, a covenant written on our hearts, a promise that in love, God “did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The story of Jesus as we follow him to the cross and through the cross to Easter is the story of the new covenant, in which Jesus gave his very blood in an act of love that exposed evil and pointed to the triumph of life.
That doesn’t seem gray at all! That seems exciting, bright, vibrant. An upside-down notion of victory - that violent death would lead to new life. We in turn are invited to turn ourselves around, toward the God who love us and all creation so fully that in spite of the many times that humanity has failed, turned away, God continues to turn toward us.
I feel personally an extra turning upside down of Lenten seasons past. Two years ago, I felt thrust suddenly and painfully into the gray wilderness of Lent after experiencing a miscarriage. So it is feels wonderful to me to be anticipating new life in this season, that Lent is a time of waiting with joy. And it seems right and good that date given for the triumphant entry of the little one we wait for is on Palm Sunday.
This year, by all means, offer something up to God for Lent in an act of letting go and fasting. But consider taking up something that will color your Lent experience. Pray in color, create something, plant something new, take pictures, visit galleries, get to know the colors and cultures of God’s people. God’s colorful promise to all creation is still alive and growing and waiting for us to be drawn in and turned inside out.