The Smiling Heretic's Blog

Lent 3 :: Sackcloth

Imperial-Sackcloth

While many churches decorate their sanctuary in purple [a traditional color denoting royalty] during the season of Lent, others use a form of what is referred to as a Lenten Array. This consists of earth tones, unbleached linen or sackcloth, and bands of black and deep, blood red: colors and textures associated with the desert wilderness, the blackness of sin, and the blood of the cross. Originally a dark colored material made of goat or camel hair, sackcloth was literally that, sacks in which to keep grain. Because of its rough, uncomfortable texture, sackcloth came to be worn as a garment by people who were in mourning. Scripture reminds us of various times in which national calamity threatened the people of Israel, so the people would put on sackcloth and ashes and would fast, weep, and lament as signs of repentance for national sins. The famous story of Jonah includes the repentance of the people of Nineveh who “proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” [Jonah 3.5]

Lent 2 :: What kind of skin?

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“Go and tell that fox…”

Jesus had much thicker skin than I do. If someone told me that the president wanted to kill me, I would be gone so fast. Not Jesus. Tough guy. Nothing rattled him: “Why should I care if Herod wants me dead? I’ve got things to do: demons to cast out, people to heal. Let me get about my work and leave off with this clever, sly fellow!”

I guess one needs a skin of armor if you’re gonna be the savior of the world. He’s been castigated by the religious leaders and authorities. Whole towns have tried to get rid of him. Now Herod wants to do the same. Gotta be a tough, no-nonsense kinda guy to weather all that. That’s Jesus.

Right?

Now hold on a bit. This tough, straight-talking, unafraid savior is also someone who laments over the fate of the city at the heart of his proclamation: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” He looks upon his beloved Jerusalem and poignantly mourns its failure to listen to him and to change. The tough guy is brought almost to tears by a people who would not accept his offer of new life.

Lent 1 :: Seeking God

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“Jesus… was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” [Luke 4.1]

You know, he wasn’t the first.

People have been seeking desert or wilderness experiences almost since the beginning of time. There’s just something about being in wilderness territory that draws people. Getting in touch with oneself. Seeking an experience of the Holy. Being challenged to survive using one’s own wits and ingenuity. Abiding in a place of total desert otherness so as to receive a glimpse of God’s Otherness. All these possibilities and more have led countless women and men to seek a wilderness place. That’s how the monastic movement in Christianity got its start.

And it’s how Jesus got his start, or, rather, being led by the Spirit in the wilderness was what brought clarity and purpose to his life and future ministry.

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