Every Sunday at church, we conclude our meeting with a different reading from the Bible, usually related to the morning’s sermon. This week, it was my turn to read this benediction.
The text that was assigned to me was Isaiah 58:1-2, 6
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them…
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?”
I skimmed through the passage as we sang our final song–it seemed like an odd selection for a closing blessing, especially since the sermon didn’t have anything to do with fasting or justice. (As it turns out, I had the wrong verses. I found out later that there had been a typo; I was supposed to read Isaiah 55, not 58.)
Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, and my moment had come to read the benediction. So, I walked to the front and mumbled some improvised introduction before reading the passage, “As we head into the season of Lent, let this be our mission and identity.” This comment was met with a number of politely bewildered smiles; we’re not the kind of church that formally observes Lent. I pushed through the awkwardness, read the passage, and we were done. Weird, but at least it was over.
Except, it’s not over. This passage has been haunting me all week.
Despite the throw-away nature of my comment about Lent, every time someone else has mentioned Lent this week, Isaiah 58 has reverberated in my mind.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice?”
Fasting requires justice. As unrelated as those two seem to me, they’re inextricably linked in this passage. And that has serious implications for Lent.
Lent, I’ve been told, is about identifying with the suffering of Christ, sacrificing comfort in order to be closer to God. But the suffering of Lent–at the least the way I’ve observed it in the past–has very little to do with the suffering of Christ. Jesus didn’t suffer for suffering’s sake, the way I do when I cut out my favorite hobbies or foods. Jesus suffered for the sake of others.
In particular, he suffered alongside and on behalf of the suffering. He poured himself out to bring freedom to the oppressed, sight to the blind, and good news to the poor. He endured pain for the sake of both solidarity and salvation–that those who mourn will have someone to mourn with them, and that their mourning will be turned into dancing.
So, to share in the suffering of Christ, we must share in the suffering of others. If we want to get closer to God this Lenten season, we must get closer to the brokenhearted, because God is close to the brokenhearted.
Anything else is just self-serving, self-righteous self-flagellation.
That said, I’m not sure what this looks like in practice, which is why I’m writing this post. I need ideas! What would it look like for us to spend Lent sharing in the suffering of others? What have you done in the past? What have you heard of others doing? What have you always wanted to do, but never had the courage/community to try?
Post your thoughts below!
(Photo credit: wikimedia.org)