The Feast of St. David, 2019
Dear Friends …
As I ponder the beginning of Lent, I spend much of my time thinking about how badly I tend to fare in whatever Lenten promise I’ve made in any given year! I say this not to guilt-trip myself, but simply to be honest. Whether I’ve given up something that I love or I’ve promised to take on a new discipline, the problem with temptation is that it’s … well … it’s tempting. The chocolate beckons for you, almost calling you by name. And the extra prayers or acts of faithfulness that you take on … well … it’s all very holy till life gets in the way. I suspect that I’m not the only one who finds himself in this position now and again. And, then, as I began to embrace my ponderings for 2019, suddenly the story that popped up in our Sunday readings involved Jesus calming the storm, and it occurred to me that perhaps here we find a note of hope in our preparations for the season of repentance, self-denial, and turning.
The story goes like this: Christ and his disciples are travelling by boat across the lake, when a sudden gale arises and threatens to capsize the boat. The disciples panic, but Christ sleeps through. When, amazed that he can sleep, they wake Christ to scream at him, “we’re dying here!” – in one version they even demand, “don’t you even care?!” – Christ wakes, rebukes the storm till it subsides, and then asks the disciples, “where’s your faith?”
My observation is that we normally read that challenge – “where’s your faith?” – as a challenge to us, and so it is. Human existence, by its nature, involves both the soaring heights of joy and the bleak depths of sorrow, and we are called as Christians to remember and to seek God’s active presence in our lives throughout it all.
And yet isn’t it interesting that here, as in so many other stories and parables, Christ only asks the question after he has met the needs of his struggling disciples. The challenge of faith only comes after Christ has shown that he has faith enough for them all. When they are weak, Christ lends his own strength. The day will come when, by the Holy Spirit’s power, they can stand in their own strength and do the same for others. But in this moment, Christ himself is enough.
The thing about Lent is this: if we do it right, it can be a storm. That is to say: if we are praying, and examining ourselves, and coming to grips with our all-too-human failings, and seeking to turn but not always knowing how, we put ourselves in the position to struggle mightily before we finally hear the Easter message of resurrection and forgiveness. Yet, if we do it wrong, that too can be a storm. Every piece of chocolate eaten in Lent can be a call to mind how far we have to go, every lazy moment or recognition of a Lenten promise broken can become an occasion of guilt and a reminder of failing, however big or small it might be.
Either way, we are blessed when we do Lent together, because there we have the possibility for having faith enough for one another. Where I fail to love well enough, the love of my parishioners never fails to amaze me. Where my friend fails to do enough through honest good faith, I can be there to take on the extra load. When grief abounds, we do well to let in the neighbour and friend who can simply sit with us and tell us that we are not alone. And when joy abounds, we do well to share it with all who need a word of hope.
St. David, whose feast day comes right before Lent this year, is reported to have said on his deathbed, “Be joyful, brothers and sisters. Keep your faith, and do the little things that you have seen and heard with me.” The little things count: small acts of kindness, graciousness, faith, and love. Christ calmed the storm not with a grand sweeping gesture, not with lights and flashes and magic, but with a simple word. And, in that word, the disciples found that Christ’s faith saved them, too. So may we follow in Lent, remembering that our words and actions, small though they may be, may just be enough to carry our neighbour’s faith till he can carry it himself; and, if we have not the strength to offer them now, then perhaps we bless our neighbour by allowing her words and actions to be our faith till we, indeed, are strong enough. Either way, the days of Lent always end in the promise of Easter: that, whether we do it well, or whether we fail to do it well, God is in the midst of us redeeming and calming and building as much faith in us as we allow.