The season of disappearing begins with intimations of impending disaster. Oncoming doom, the approaching day, of Yahweh, a Day of Judgment and reckoning and justice for all the nations and the peoples. This day will be "exceedingly great, terrible and dreadful-who can endure it?" (Joel 2:11).
The prophet Joel, in the company of all prophets, knows the transitory nature of all life, of governments and structures and reigns of power. One day they will all disappear. Judged by God's enduring standards, there will be a separating of the just and the saved from the unjust and lost.
The reading begins with the words of the Holy One:
Yet even now, return to me with your whole heart, with, fasting. weeping and mourning. Rend your heart. Not your garment. Return to Yahweh, your God-gracious and compassionate.
The invitation /exhortation are announced. lt sounds as if God is pleading with us to come home, to turn from the directions we are headed. The words are proclaimed with the power of a trumpet blast. This summons is a warning for the soul, an alarm set off to jolt the heart of the people and set it back on its natural rhythm. It is for repentance, a pulling back of the people so that they are one in communion, obedient, belonging to God. All are to be drawn back into the heart of the community, in our case, to the body of Christ, the church. Martin Luther King. Jr... called the church, "the gathering of sinners." Everyone-infants nursing, newlyweds, priests, ancients, children, and those who have no rank in the nations-is to come home. lt is time to be gathered together, to be sanctified, to bring together the disparate, the lost, the separated, and the exiled.
It is a proclamation about the Divine Presence, our God who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, full of kindness. And who knows? God probably will relent once more and spare some part of the harvest to be given as sacred offerings. But it is not just food that Yahweh is interested in sparing, it is we, God's people, who are spared so that we too might become sacred offerings given wholeheartedly to God. It is we who are to become a blessing that God leaves behind for all the nations to take heart from and to marvel at the presence of God among us. This God of ours, we are assured, will be stirred to concern, even for the land, and will take pity on us all, it is time to heed the summons.
God is a reconciler, pleading our se, begging on our behalf, intervening between us and ways of life that are dangerous and selfish and inhuman. This season is about returning to the image of God that we were fashioned to reflect. lt is time to work again at being reconcilers, peacemakers, ambassadors for Christ.
This season is not just for us but for the reconciliation and communion of the whole world. These forty days are for becoming the very holiness of God, for radical alterations in the society and life we dwell within. We all become fellow workers receiving grace and the power to reconstitute human life and the universe. Our response must be immediate. We must bend our wills and grab hold of one another and walk together again as we usher one another into the presence of God.
How do we do this? By disappearing we must be on our guard against performing religious acts for people to see and instead learn to be invisible, sly, crafty, ingenious, secretly aiding and abetting the kingdom's coming into the world. We must be creative and imaginative in fasting and Performing acts of mercy and compassion-imitating God, Who dwells among us and delights in giving solace and help anonymously, borrowing the flesh of believers for God's work in the world.
And we must pray: in secret, with stealth, behind closed doors, humbly, privately, intimately. When we fast, we should work at looking good so no one suspects the radical change within us and so within the world. No one is supposed know what we are doing individually although we have all been summoned to do this with one heart and spirit together. Our actions are to seep into the world like the scent of perfume distilled in the air or, as a Japanese proverb says, the scent of the flowers remains on the hands of the one who gives them away as gift.
Why all the secrecy? At root, our God is a secret, hidden in mystery, hidden in all the earth and its creatures. Nothing is as it seems to be. God lurks in the most unlikely place waiting to be uncovered, found, and embraced. The ancient practices of Lent-prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the work of mercy-remind us of these truths, which form the core and heart of our practice of belief in God.
Peter Chrysoloogus, a fifth-century bishop, tells us that fasting is the soul of prayer and that mercy is the lifeblood fasting. So, if we pray, fast; if we fast, show mercy; if want our petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. We do not close our ear to others, we open God's ear to u God hides among us. Now is the time to learn low line obedience, and turning again toward God without fanfare. The whole community is doing it; it is something we are doing in common.
Abbot Stephen OSC