If you look at the selected Evening Prayer in the daily devotional Give Us This Day, you will find a reading from the Book of Acts (Acts 17:27b-31). It is not the standard evening prayer for today, as found in the Liturgy of the Hours, but I read it (yes – early, because I thought I was giving a reflection on it tonight) and I thought it really delivered the message of what these last gasps of Lent might offer us.
Here we are at the end of our 40 day trek through the desert. We are likely weary, hot, tired, thirsty, exhausted. Or maybe we are not, because we saw the “last oasis before Easter” exit earlier in our Lenten journey, so we did the sensible thing – we bailed. Some of us may be somewhere in between, straddling a well-practiced Lent and a lazy one. That last one covers me, as I careened from one extreme to the other, a sacrificial Lent and a somewhat less disciplined one. God, I’m sorry about eating so much of that cake that Erica baked; I did not mean to, it just happened.
It may seem that when we are at either of the extremes, we are far from God. Our piety can be a lonely place, as we try to get good enough for God to come near. Our slovenliness may have us feeling ashamed, modern day Adams and Eves, scrambling for leaves and explanations should God show up. Either way it is a losing proposition and perhaps how too many of us experience this season of Lent.
Yet, there is it, right there, as we clutch our chests and scramble for the Wednesday finish line, the opening sentence… “God is not far from any one of us. “ That’s actually paraphrased, which you will note if you go looking, but that’s how it was in Give Us This Day, and I liked it. “God is not far from any one of us.”
How consoling this is! God is not far from any of us, even when in my case, the crumbs are all over my shirt, and a little bit of frosting sticks to my upper lip. Suddenly I imagine God as mama, gently cleaning me up, as if I were a messy toddler in my highchair, which seems to shoot up out of a carpet of cheerios.
God is not far from me when I decided that I am going to “get really holy.” Sipping water, despite a pounding headache, determined to not eat anything for hours, my pride supplanting my hunger for a moment. “Look at me,” I think, “this is fasting!” God is there to catch me when I fall, which I will and soon – from my fasting and my pride, landing smack on the floor with a thud.
In a more serious vein, God is not far from us, just as God was not far from Jesus, hanging on the cross, himself even momentarily wondering why God had forsaken him. No, God is never far from us indeed.
We’ve made this long Lenten journey again. It would be easy to lead ourselves to believe that “muscle memory” would kick in, and we wouldn’t have to work that hard at it. I don’t know about you, but sometimes Lent is harder now that I am older. Maybe because so much more of my veneer has fallen away, and I realize what a holy mess I am making of the whole thing. Can’t I just do this like I used to?
As the offspring of God we surely will be judged, and we are certainly called to repentance. I think that’s where the trouble starts, although we are the problem, not God! When we think of terms like judge and repent, we put our own versions of them on top of what God may intend for us. We always seem to be so much harder than God.
At the end of Lent, I examine my bruises earned along the way from my many slips and falls. Another season of repenting and transforming has come and almost gone, although I do not feel very repented or transformed.
Yet, as I read those words from Acts I took heart… God is not far, and ‘”In him we live and move and have our being,” Another 40 days draws to a close and Easter is nearly here. God is never far.
As I’m gasping and stumbling along the remaining path, I experience this with joy of what is to come. May it be so for all of us.