My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
Isaiah 53:2-5 (New Living Translation)
My faith tradition prides itself on not following tradition (which, oddly enough, makes another tradition all in itself), but I've been drawing closer to these ancient traditions in years of late. But as I was - tardily - contemplating if I should even attempt to run this Lenten season. I decided that I should for two reasons.
First, despite the fact that I've had problems with the sin-centric approach of the Western Church for the last few years and that I'm moving from that perspective, I have to admit that sin is real, and that it needs to be grieved over. I sin. I hurt my wife, myself, my God, my daughter, my neighbors, my friends, my brothers, parents, and sometimes even you by my selfishness, my unthinking, my uncouth responses, my deliberate and sometimes accidental burning hatred, loose words, my penchant for violence, my wandering eye.
I'm also a part of a society that revels in sin. And as a result, I find I need to stand with the prophet Daniel in calling out the sins of my people. My shopping habits help to embolden a system that oppresses working class people in the US as well as virtual slaves outside of it. Our habits of entertainment are a trap-door to escape from true brutality, we ignore and exploit those that are far from us in either ideology, geography, or in skin-tone. I hear Jesus telling us that we need to repent for allowing a culture where we still have inquisitions. I seek to change my heart from complicated excuses for my selfishness that lead to leisure built on or expanding violence to a life of simplicity and grace (and maybe vegetables).
The second meditation of this season is on the Man of Sorrows himself. This is a core Christian teaching, that God has become human. That he is deeply familiar with our deepest sufferings. That what we have gone through, God has gone through. The faith of Christians is rooted not in a removed and God-from-on-high, but rather a God-among-us. He became dirty, homeless, penalized, beaten, brutally murdered under the current death penalty.
And he is deeply familiar with the sorrows and griefs and pain and heartaches of the single mother bagging our groceries and gearing up for her second job of the day, of the eight year old daughter sold into brothels, the ten year old son working twelve hour days stitching together shoes, the abuelita with osteoporosis, the neglected teenager, the rejected queer, the forgotten father.
He knows me in my depression and my rage and my doubts and fears.
He knows us; he walks with us.
He is deeply acquainted with us.
If you're looking for something tangible to do to alleviate the suffering of others during this season, please consider taking a part of my friend Kurt's campaign to raise money for Blood: Water Mission. $2 a day for the next forty days, to raise money for wells in Africa.