Snow and Lent
I was tempted on Ash Wednesday morning to jump out the window (again). Any second floor window was suitable given the height, depth and width of the snow bank below. But the risk of injury on the first day of Lent kept this pastor safely inside. I had work to do. Such attention seeking behavior was already old news with a Globe story of a man in a bathing suit diving into a drift for a "swim." And the mayor of Boston was warning against such foolishness, even if one could claim being a "fool for Christ" (I Cor. 4:10). The pressure to jump came by virtue of the plush pile's imminent removal.
I noticed a kind of tipping point this week in which people were trying to laugh at the misery brought on by 8 feet of snow in half as many weeks. A friend and colleague who also happens to be the president of Andover Newton Theological School sent out an Ash Wednesday announcement postponing Lent by a week: In a proclamation that stunned the world of theological education, President Martin Copenhaver said, “Part of our mission as a school is to be ‘radically open to what God is doing now.’ Well, we have no idea what God is doing now, except this: Snow. Lots of snow. We have had to cancel classes on six days already — that’s already a whole week (minus Sunday, of course). In other words, we are already a full week behind. Therefore, we feel obliged to respond. Moving Lent seemed the least we could do. Might it be controversial? Yes, but we are not only the oldest, we are also the boldest seminary in the country. Here we stand. We can do no other.”
On the first day of Lent I wanted to canonize as saints our facilities manager Dennis O’Brien and our snowplower and landscaper Chris Manfredi for all their hard work in the recovery of our parking lot so that we can safely come to church in this now-frozen, holy season. Never in local history have parking lots been more appreciated. Saint Paul is blessed by all our space for vehicles and by these two men who are surprisingly joyful and enthusiastic in their work at Saint Paul. Our primary task as a community is to Gather, so it helps if you can park.
I wish we could fast from the snow but it will likely be with us until Easter and beyond. Pope Francis's has a better idea. Penance and self-denial are good disciplines for lent, but rather than giving up sweets or alcohol he reminds us that fasting should be for the benefit of others. And so he calls us to fast from indifference toward God and our neighbor. Describing a phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes: “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
I will take those words with me through lent as we gather here to worship a God who cares, who comes to us in Word and Sacrament so that we can care for others.