The readings for this Sunday are filled with images of renewal - new birth, new life, new creation. These images imply that God’s promise for new life entails God’s gift of a fresh start, freed from the restrictions of our past lives in order to enter a new relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lent is a time for engaging our new life in Christ more deeply, risking new levels of trust. The purpose of Lent is not to dwell on suffering, or to spend forty days bewailing our manifold sins and wickedness for the sake of feeling our pain. Lent is about engaging in the ongoing process of renewal, regeneration, and new birth; it is about encouraging us to trust and to risk going forth and being sent out with the promise of new life.
Lent may require us to “think outside the box” of piety and religiosity, just as Abram and Sarai had to break with their past, and the Pharisees Saul and Nicodemus with theirs. The promises of God bear not only upon the future of our individual lives in relationship to God, but also upon the future of our parish, our diocese, and our Church as a whole
To respond to the promise for new life means we have to be ready to redraw and rename the places on the journey. When the ancient ones told the story of Abram and Sarai, they were also inscribing new place names and creating a new social geography on the territories of their migrations in company with God.
God may be inviting us to rethink how we do Church in light of the socio-geographies of the times we live in. When Saul the Pharisee became Paul the Apostle as we know him, he brought new words, images, and new community structures into being, “calling into existence things which do not exist,” by trustfully following Jesus into new life.
Lent is for listening to that call in our own lives. In the words of James Russell Lowell, “New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth.” Lent is for careful thinking about how to step into the as-yet-unmapped future, to deepen our relationship to God, to trust the picture of new life in Christ, and for identifying the breaks with the past that we need to make in order to respond to the promises of God.
I'll see you in Church!
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church