The Lessons of Lent

By Reverend Bobbie McKay, Ph.D.  •  April 01, 2021

Each year as Lent approaches, I experience the same dilemma. What shall I do about Lent?

It was easier when I was younger and thought about what I would “give up” for Lent. At that time, giving up something would somehow make Lent more meaningful. Or maybe it had something to do with Jesus “giving up” his life as his journey was completed.

For many of us, Lent was a time to experience some form of deprivation that would end when Easter arrived.  

And then came COVID, and the specter of death became a new scenario we had to face daily. How many have died? How many ventilators do we need? How much money will this cost?  How will we protect ourselves in the face of such a deadly disease?

Currently, those questions are reduced to one issue: Where can I get my two doses of the COVID Vaccine? How soon can I get it? If I don’t get my vaccine soon enough, will I get the virus and get very sick or die?

Vulnerability Of Life

Enter the scripture from the Gospel of John that we are reading in Lent, 2021. Jesus is washing the feet of his disciples and teaching them a new commandment. “Love one another. In the same way, I loved you, and you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples - when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:1-17; 31b-35. Translation from “The Message Bible” by Eugene H. Peterson).

Suddenly, the idea of “giving up something for Lent” had no connection to the disciples’ had when Jesus washed their feet.  Instead, the lesson Jesus was teaching had something to do with the vulnerability of life and the issue of control. The disciples were accompanying Jesus on his perilous journey, which would turn out to be a journey into his death and the enormous unknown of what would happen to his disciples after he died.

The disciples were experiencing the utter vulnerability of their situation. Their future was entirely unknown. Their lives were out of their control. They needed to know what was going to happen to them. What plan did he have for their lives? And Jesus’ response was to wash their feet and to talk to them about love.  

Connecting To My Vulnerability

Then I saw the incredible connection this story had to do with my own life, approaching 90 years of age this year and living in a facility for people in the aging process. We were also living in the reality of death as we each faced the end of our lives. 

We are as vulnerable and alone as those disciples were. What is going to happen to me? How will I die? Will I be alone? Will anyone accompany me on this new journey? Will I suffer as death approaches? Who will care for me? Who will care about me? What is the future when one is approaching death?  

In the gospel story, Jesus takes off his robe, picks up a towel and a basin of water, and offers to wash their feet. Because it is his death that is approaching, he gives them the answer they needed to hear, “You are to love one another in the same way I have loved you.” And the way he loved his disciples was to reach out and care for them directly. He washed their feet that had journeyed through life, and he gave purpose and truth to their experience.

Wisdom And Spirit

Life IS all about caring for each other and recognizing the power of that experience. It is the way our lives become purposeful and meaningful. It is the path of wisdom and spirit.   

In the aging process, we learn about the vulnerability of aging, the loss of control that now “controls” our lives. We cannot know the scope of the aging process. Like the disciples, we can learn the power of love given and love received when the future is unknown.

We may not wash anyone’s feet. But we can listen to each other’s life stories; we cannot predict the future, but we can recognize God in our experiences of love given and love received. The lessons of Jesus’ ministry center us in the realities of life as we learn how to live in this unpredictable and constantly changing experience called life.

At the end of Lent, when Easter arrives, Lent’s ultimate gift is made manifest among us. New life is the promise and the reality of God’s Gift for everyone. And Love is the way we express that gift.

About the Author

Reverend Bobbie McKay, Ph.D.

The Reverend Bobbie McKay, Ph.D. is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a licensed psychologist. She has completed a very large research study on “Spiritual Life in Mainstream Interfaith Congregations” with over 3000 participants in the study. From that extensive study, she created the “Spiritual Life Team Program” which enables people to identify and share their spiritual lives in a small group, non-psychologically oriented, setting. The groups have been 100% successful in enabling people to identify and share their spiritual lives. Dr. McKay is the minister of Spiritual Life at the Glenview Community Church. She celebrated her 50th anniversary of ordination in 2020. Dr. McKay was married to Lewis Musil who died in 2019. She has seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren!

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