You may only know that Lent is a Christian season during which practitioners, “give something up,” as a spiritual practice. You may even know it is a season for preparing for Easter, or a big change more generally.
This Lent which began for Christians on Feb. 26 has been “the Lentiest Lent I Ever Did Lent” — as a meme that danced across my social media feed aptly said. We have all given up far more than we ever would have willingly agreed to for Lent — or for any reason, really. It’s not just like we’ve given up some small vice or habit this Lent — chocolate, alcohol or swearing, for example. We have all given up entirely the normal rhythms of our lives in order to comply with the social distancing that health experts urged (even begged) us to do to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Stripping life to its bare bones, only leaving home for the most basic necessities, has forced the most privileged among us (like myself) to reorder our routines and care for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our communities in whole new ways. This condensed version of life has also brought into sharp, painful awareness for the privileged the inequities that were already among us — the incredible injustice of low wages paid to grocery store clerks, restaurant cooks and servers, home health care and domestic workers, and delivery drivers. Perhaps we are seeing for the first time the injustice of the health care system and healthy food system that disproportionately serves the wealthiest and the whitest among us, causing the deaths of far more people of color due to this virus (and other illnesses in general). Or the painful reminder of the incredible vulnerability of the homeless or housing insecure who don’t have shelter, adequate food or running water. The women and children who are sheltered in homes that are not safe. Thousands of children who are not in schools that deliver not only education, but provide most of their meals each day. The incarcerated and staff in prisons for whom conditions are never healthy and make them extremely vulnerable.
A passage from Isaiah 58: 6-7 (often read at the beginning of Lent) in which the prophet decries the unjust behavior of those who would engage in religious pageantry and then mistreat people, feels particularly resonate now:
“6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
(Scripture quote from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)
Whether you are a religious person of any kind, a secular humanist, or atheist, we may be called to an unpleasant reckoning. The universe seems to be calling us to repent in the truest sense of the word — to turn around, to change, to do things very, very differently than we were before.
I’ve often quipped over the years to my Christian friends that, “Jesus didn’t die so that you could act like asshole.” No, that act of love and grace embodied in the person Jesus reminds us that grace is a blessing we get not because of status or wealth or race or gender or past good deeds, but simply because we are. We are called to, in turn, extend that blessing to everyone else. Often we also rely on that freely given grace in order to practice — as many times as it takes — to get it right. Now is the time to use up some of that grace in its every-flowing abundance.
Let’s live into this Easter truly filled with new life — the inspiration to live into the abundance of God’s love, joy, and justice. For everyone. No exceptions. Let’s make the love last as if the last chord of the Hallelujah Chorus would hang in the air forever, or as if the Easter lilies constantly bloomed, or the decorated eggs and chocolate-filled baskets were never depleted.
Let’s make Easter the new normal.