March…named for Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. March also describes that brisk walking thing, forced or voluntary; marching bands, soldiers marching, marching through Lent towards Easter. A lot of the walkers, with or without dogs, at Bidwell Park would make great marchers, so fast and snappy! The military images, not surprisingly, are really mixed for me – how often in the past have we compared the Church to the army of God, sung ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ or the more peppy ‘We Are Marching In The Light of God’, marched together in CROP walks, in protest, or in peace…some of us even recently marched through the brilliant January sunshine on our way home to celebrate the ministry of Martin Luther King Jr.
As armies go, I’m not sure we would qualify. We all have different levels of training, endurance, and a variety of visions (now there is an understatement!) for where our next campaign should be conducted. We often bristle at authority, plan our leave frequently, resist uniforms, and a host of other non-military evidences. On a bad day, I sometimes find myself humming the old hymn, “Like a mighty turtle, moves the church of God, walking ‘round in circles, where it’s always trod”…
AND YET…for all that, we manage to move with efficiency and clarity fairly often, with purpose and passion at the forefront. When our mind is set towards an outcome, we can be a great force for good and change in the world. Trinity recently hosted 53 evacuated United Methodists for a few days when the Oroville dam spillway was imperiled. We have agreed to be an emergency cold-weather homeless shelter if the need arises. We have embraced a Declaration of Inclusion, widening our ministry to LGBTQ persons. And we manage to do all these things without too much ‘collateral damage’, a good thing in light of medieval (and local) history.
By the time you read this, we will just be starting our march through Lent to Calvary and then beyond to Easter. We will have an Ash Wednesday service at 7pm on March 1st, and I hope you will join us in our lovely Chapel to begin lent together. And even though this “march” is annual, it always feels like kind of a forced march to me, with my sunny temperament chafing under the Lenten sackcloth uniform. I just don’t like Lent, I say to myself, but that’s not really the whole truth. What I really don’t like is the imposed introspection, the self-questioning, the intentional spring cleaning of mind and heart that Lent encourages. Like other healthy things, it doesn’t feel that great. But it has much value, and so every year I put on my metaphorical big boy undies and soldier on, and encourage others to march alongside. Misery loves company, right?
But it is so much more than that…in our media circus society, where anyone’s missteps can be filmed by passerby and posted online within minutes, Lent is much more old school. We are our own paparazzi, our own judge and jury. We set the pace of the inquiry and the penalty if there needs be one. What a gift of grace, to take time and review our lives, make mid-course corrections, and resolve to a higher quality of being.
In some ways, we are a rag-tag army, vaguely following vague orders as interpreted by an unqualified officer du jour. But in other ways we really are a mighty regiment, marching and loving and healing and improving as a unit, and we will persevere, and we will live to love another day.
Thanks to the officers. Thanks to all the soldiers, of whatever ‘rank’. And perhaps thanks most of all to Christ, the highest-ranking general of all. It is his vision that continues to motivate us after millennia of effort, and his smile and praise that inspire us still. Have a good March, everyone…