We have begun a special time of the year and for our souls. Christmas-time is not a far-distant memory. Easter was celebrated in the early church three centuries before the liturgical celebration of the birth of Jesus. We join a most ancient of Christian practices and prayers. We are preparing for our personal and communal renewal.
We are invited to consider our fallen condition within the context of God’s having created us and how, in Christ, God continues that creational process. We prepare for this liturgy and for Easter by our reversing Adam and Eve’s envy, pride, and unlistening. We are asked to face our own basic temptations during these days of our coming back to “grace-life”.
In viewing a painting, we find that the frame’s importance is that it highlights the painting and leads the eye to greater appreciation. Lent helps the believer to refocus a bit. If the frame diminishes the artist’s work by its own beauty, then the frame is actually the art-object and the painting is reduced to highlighting the frame.
Our readings for this First Sunday of Lent seem to challenge our spirits. What is the picture and what is the frame? The Fall, as it is known, and our many replications, can seem to be the main event. All of Lent and all of Christian spirituality can seem to focus our souls’ eyes on our fallen condition, our rebellion, our envy, pride and disobedience. This is quite reasonable and somehow psychologically right.
With this as the picture, the frame obviously would be the love of the creating God and the divine embrace of us in Jesus. This too would be a good way to look at things. The problem is that this way of viewing ourselves and our God is absolutely wrong!
At the Easter Vigil, a most graceful and ancient celebration, a song is sung which in part proclaims, “O happy fault”, referring to Adam’s sin. “Happy”, because it has brought forth such a loving savior. Our First Reading begins forming the frame. Our biblical parents have an identity problem or issue. They need to know more clearly who they are. There is some knowledge which they do not have and they perceive that they will be more full by knowing. Envy of God moves them to replace God with their being like “gods”. The “fall” reduces them to an eternal vision problem in which they will not know clearly enough what is good and what is evil. They must cover themselves, their nakedness, lest the other and others see in them something about which they do not have sufficient knowledge. It is the first, but not certainly the last of human “cover-ups”.
The Second Reading begins the refocusing of the picture and the frame. Sin entered the world through one human being, but that is not the main picture. Grace and the great gift outweighs the first sin. Jesus Christ is the picture and the frame of our human fallingness directs our spiritual attention to Him as having died and having risen.
The Gospel presents us with Jesus the New Adam. As such He resists “unlistening”. In the verses which conclude the previous chapter in Matthew, Jesus is baptized and called to listen to His identity as “The Beloved One”. To continue the image, Jesus has begun to take His place as the main Work of Art by listening to Whom God says He is and resisting the temptations to listen to the “enemy of our humanity”.
The life-long fidelity of Jesus was framed within the relationship of His trusting Who His Father had said He was, “The Beloved”. Jesus kept this in focus and our Lenten experience calls us to remember who God says we are who are baptized into Christ. All Lent leads to our renewal of our baptismal identity at the Easter Vigil. As we will welcome our new sisters and brothers into their personal identifications in Christ, so we too prepare by shaking off the falseness of anything pretending to be more or less.
There is the Lenten call to repentance and to our being more prayerful, more generous and more eager to do the works of charity. This is not a dark time or gloomy as we ponder our failures, true they be. Our participation in the envy, greed and pride of Adam and Eve is not ever to be the main picture, dramatic though they be. Jesus’ whole life, His entire embrace of His own humanity is the divine embrace of our own personal and collective selves. We are saved, not alone, by Jesus hanging on the cross of Calvary, but Jesus as He hangs in on His whole life of living faithfully Who His Father has given him to be for us.
I heard of a bumper sticker which read, “Eve was framed.” This is the “joyful season of Lent”, because Jesus is framed with our fallen natures and yet He remains at the center as Savior. If we keep things straight then this will be a joyful season even when we look honestly at how easily we fall to envy, pride and false identities. To be prayerfully honest does not mean being negative, depressed, or dropping out of the journey.
“The Lord will overshadow you, and you will find refuge under his wings.” Ps. 91, 4
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