We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. So stand strong in that freedom. Don’t go back into slavery again.
-Paul, Galatians 5:1
Yesterday Lent began. If you need a reminder, Lent is the 40 day season of the Christian calendar leading to the Easter celebration. It parallels the very human journey of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days in Luke 4. I used to ignore Lent, but now I see it as one of the best opportunities for growing closer to Jesus.
Hundreds of years ago in the villages of medieval Europe it was a regular practice to begin Lent with a huge bonfire in the middle of town. In fact, in Belgium, France, and Germany, the first Sunday of Lent is still known as "Sunday of the Great Fires." But the old stories go that the fuel was more than trees. It was anything that villagers could find in their houses that wasn't needed. Bonfires were made of old broken wheels, dead bushes, furniture with missing parts, and other useless items left over in everyone’s houses after being cooped up all winter. No doubt disease carrying clothing was also tossed in there, to enact both a literal and symbolic act of purification. The fire was a statement of passion in direct opposition to the drudgery of winter's dirt, disease, and clutter. It was time to clean house and look forward to spring.
Lent is a time for self-reflection and slow transformation. I go back to the imagery of European bonfires every year because most of us north-easterners can relate to the effects of the dreary, cold winter. It’s been dark for too long. We are so ready for a change! And the change is indeed coming with the approaching spring. The earth will become new again, as bare branches give way to green buds and the chill is removed from the air. That will all happen in a few weeks, regardless of what we do.
However, the clutter and numbness that build up in our spirits are a different story. They only get burned off and warmed up if we make a choice. The weeks of Lent are the time to choose what needs to be put in the bonfire. When you think about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, what are the distractions and hangups in your life that need to go in order to really party on April 9th?
What needs to be tossed out?
What are the diseased clothes to be burned?
What needs to be forgiven? What needs to be turned from?
How can we prepare ourselves for the beauty of God’s coming season?
What are the things that bring you immense joy to imagine burning away?
(You could go in a really dark direction with that question. Don’t do that.)
Bonfires are a passionate expression of life. In the flicker of the flame there is often laughter and dancing and food and celebration. That’s how it still is around the world. Something gets freed in the letting go of things that have gotten in the way.
When I was a kid I burned stuff in my garage all the time. Most of the time my family didn’t know. Deodorant gave off a dazzling blue dripping flame. Socks weirdly melted and made a lot of smoke. It wasn’t a safe habit, but it sure was fun.
What if you did something a little quirky today? What if you marked the season with a concrete action?
I invite you to choose one specific thing that you're asking Jesus to burn away in your life. Identify some soul clutter that is hindering you from moving around freely with God. Then, find something to actually burn as a symbol of that. Seriously. Don’t do it inside, though. And apparently garages count as "inside."
We lit candles last night at our Lent service for that. You can do that too.
Of course, you could do all this in your mind if it sounds juvenile. But lighting something on fire is so much more fun.
Jesus is nudging us down the path from winter into spring. It’s time to thaw out and come alive in a new way. So, what’s one place to start?
Jesus, help me identify what needs releasing, and give me strength to do it.
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