2015 Lent 1: Ash Wednesday


Jonah 3:1–4:11

Last year I established a sort of a precedent for myself.  I wrote a post a day during the season of Lent.  Well, I’m going to try again this year.

As an Episcopal priest I will draw on The Episcopal Church’s lectionary, or schedule of readings.  It is found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), in case you’re interested.

This lectionary is divided into two years, named, logically enough (though not too creatively), Year One and Year Two.  It’s easy to keep track what year we’re in: Year One, an odd number, mostly follows odd years; Year Two mostly even–“mostly” because the year starts in Advent, not quite (or only mostly) matching up with our calendar years.

So this year, 2015, lands me in Year One.

Within the year there are daily readings.  Finding the readings for Ash Wednesday is easy enough–p. 950 if you have a BCP.  But each day has a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from a New Testament epistle, a reading from a Gospel, and at least two readings from the book of psalms.  In other words, there are at least five readings to choose from on any given day.  Including today!

To make it easy on me, then, I’m making a decision to follow the Old Testament track this year.  I’ve established a precedent for myself, last year; so there are many years ahead, right?  That way, I figure, after ten years or so of doing this, I will have written a meditation on every passage in the BCP’s lectionary for Lent–quite a collection!  Of course, if I ever go back and read them I might be embarrassed.  Nevertheless, there it is, a Lenten project for myself.

Accordingly, today’s passage is the final two chapters of the book of Jonah.  You know, Jonah: the guy who rebelliously set out to sea, in the opposite direction, after God told him in a vision to go to the land of Nineveh; the guy who was swallowed by a big fish (the Bible never says “whale,” by the way) and the sea became  suddenly and strangely calm; the guy who, after three days (like Jesus in the tomb!), was given new life, finding himself spat up on a beach; and the guy who got mad at God for relenting.

That’s where we find him today: mad at God because God did not bring about threatened destruction on those mean people, those Ninevites, who’d greatly hurt Jonah’s people in the past.

But the king of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes during a forty-day period of grace.  Good grief, how Lenten is that!  And so God relented from anger.

Yet Jonah was mad!

Has it ever struck you that the Old Testament scriptures portray God’s people as able to argue with God?  God is a father to them and they are like argumentative adolescents.  Abraham argues about how many righteous people there are in Sodom and Gomorrah.  Jacob wrestles with God’s angel until he gets his way (and a permanent limp!).  Moses argues with God on the Israelites’ behalf, and wins!  And have you read the psalms?  Now, here, likewise: grumpy, angst-ridden, disaffected Jonah argues with God.

But we New Testament Christians somehow squirm at the idea of arguing with God.  The scriptures, some modern-day American good evangelical Christians reason, are absolutely inerrant; or at least infallible.  To which I ask, really?  Then why does the Gospel of John say that Jesus was crucified on a different day of the week than the other Gospels?  Are the (infallible) scriptures trying to deceive us?

Good question!  Maybe we should not squirm at discussing this discrepancy (only one amongst myriad, by the way).  Maybe it’s okay even to argue about it, eh?  The people of God in the Old Testament had no problem doing so.  Maybe neither should we!

The Christian church’s history is full of messy humanity, good, bad, and ugly.  Maybe it’s the same with the scriptures.

If God should be mad at anyone in this story, it’s Jonah, who becomes so angry he says, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Do you ever feel like Jonah?  I know sometimes I do.  But the Old Testament suggests that’s okay.  If and when we argue with God, we’re still loved.

Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to where this Lenten adventure will lead.


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