Play to listen to author Sandra Van Opstal

Words like confession and repentance have left a bad taste in many of our mouths for various reasons, but how can we experience transformation without knowing what needs liberation? Even for those of us who come from communities and personal experiences of injustice, our liberation is not found merely in inviting others to a life of salvation (liberation, healing, flourishing). The life and death of Christ invites us, for our own integrity, to examine and reconsider how we ourselves have been complicit in corporate and systemic wrong. This forty day journey to deepen our love for Creator and Christ through the Spirit’s transforming power is the invitation of lent. 

Lent invites us to collective liberation. It is a season that celebrates the life, death and resurrection of our liberator who came to offer us salvation:

Embodied in liberation

Embodied in healing

Embodied in flourishing

We enter this journey with our whole selves not to practice a faith of intellect, but one of embodiment. We enter the forty days understanding that it is one of solidarity. We start by considering the words of Jesus after he came from his forty days in the wilderness to offer his inaugural speech. We are inheritors of both that promise and purpose.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Luke 4:18

Lent invites solidarity with one another.  Fasting is a powerful discipline that allows us to practice solidarity with those on the margins and enter into one another’s suffering. When many of us think of Lent we think of individual fasting or corporate fasting. But who cares if we gave up coffee if it did not help us to become a more compassionate witness of the suffering and power of Christ? What does God say to us about worship and fasting that does not produce mercy and justice?  

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

Isaiah 58:6

Lent invites us to interrogate our spiritual practices. Individualistic Christianity will not lead to a practice of mutuality. How can we live justly if our spirituality centers ourselves? Justice starts with shifting concern from ourselves to others. Western Christians across traditions have taken communal practices and colonized them into individualized practices. This has left a legacy not only in white churches but also in BIPOC faith communities. Musical worship, Lord’s Table, Lent, even Baptism are seen primarily as individual practices instead of how they were meant to be understood through a communal lens. Baptism, for example, in the early church was a process you journeyed towards in a cohort. The Lord’s table was a time to reflect not only on the “body of Christ” but also on the “body” that represents Christ.

Lent reminds us of our frailty and mortality. Lent reminds us that we are finite and the renewal of all things does not depend solely on OUR ability. The observance of Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

We are amazing creative creatures, but we are not creator.

We are culture shapers, but not culture saviors.

We are engaged participants, but not infinitely wise. 

We have limits. 

Genesis 2 reminds us that God formed humans from the dust of the ground and breathed on us the breath of life. Genesis 3 reminds us that from dust we are and to dust we shall return. Ash Wednesday is rooted in the Hebrew tradition of repentance, reflection and fasting. Ashes on the forehead symbolizes penance in the Bible. Job repents “in dust and ashes”. Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah repent in sackcloth and ashes. Christians adopted the practice as well. The practices in Scripture of repentance, reflection and renewal were communal. The repentance was by an individual on behalf of or with a community and connected to communal liberation (salvation, healing, flourishing). How might we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent more broadly with a communal lens?

Practice the ritual of Ash Wednesday.  Create ashes and smudge one anothers foreheads as an act of remembrance. Historically, people have used the palm branches from the year before, but you can be creative. Ashes mark the sign of the cross on our forehead while we hear the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The ashes signify our frailty and mortality and the cross of Christ our liberation by God’s grace. As you do this, tell your family about our connectedness to the land and our creator. Ask God to grow your desire for solidarity with other marginalized communities.

Follow our lenten journey towards liberation on IG @chasingjustice_

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