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Ash Wednesday Reflection: Russ Eanes

3.1. 2017 Posted By: The Mennonite 109 Times read

Blow the rams-horn in Zion,
Sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let everybody in the country tremble,
For the day of Yahweh is coming,
Yes, it is near.
Day of darkness and gloom,
Day of cloud and blackness.
Like the dawn, across the mountains
Spreads a vast and might people,
Such as has never been before.Such as never will be seen again
To the remotest ages. Joel 2:1-2

People in the Ancient Near East, at the crossroads of three continents and competing empires, lived in near constant state of fear from invasion. This is abundantly clear throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This fear was a backdrop that seemed to never go away. Even hundreds of years later, the words of Zechariah’s Song in the Gospel of Luke echo this theme from the older scriptures, repeating the same entreaty to live and worship without fear of enemies.

And if this fear of invasion were not enough, the Prophet Joel spoke of fear of plague and famine from so-called natural causes, such as locusts. These massive and unexpected “natural” disasters were another ever-present reality. The passage above, and subsequent verses, speak in apocalyptic terms of a conjunction of them all—a swarm of locusts that morphs into an invading army on horseback.

I personally feel like the United States in early 2017 is a lot like a plague of locusts, morphing into an invasive force. But the assault arrives with neither wings nor arrows but via daily twitter storms. It is a new kind of oppression.

The Prophet Joel speaks of an impending invasion, of the dread of destruction. And yet also the promise of protection, if the people repent deeply, in their hearts:

But now—declares Yahweh—
Come back to me with all your heart,
Fasting, weeping, mourning.
Tear your hearts and not your clothes,
And come back to Yahweh your God,
For he is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, rich in faithful love,
And he relents about inflicting disaster. Joel 2:12-13

In these meditations for Lent, we have been asked to reflect on resistance and resilience in our current age. Resistance and resilience are things we should always be about. This is part of our vocation as Christians, particularly as Mennonite/Anabaptists. Yet too often our lives are consumed by buying stuff or with a selfie to post on social media. We are easily lulled to sleep, into a spiritual torpor by the din of our digital age. Our resistance has not just worn down; we’ve gone to sleep.

Lent calls us to change. The personal change that leads outward to community must be led and inspired by the Spirit of God, lest the demons of our age regroup and possess us.

Change is both systemic and personal, if it is to be resilient. Progressives emphasize systemic change; conservatives emphasize the personal. I have been musing over this difference for nearly 40 years and concluded long ago that they are both, in fact, right.

Personal change is necessary to build better families and communities, the foundations of a better society. Yet personal change cannot overcome systemic barriers, what the New Testament refers to as “The Powers.”

In this season of Lent, we embark on the personal work of God that needs to be done in our hearts. This is a deliberate time. We lament our failures and we repent, which is literally a turn-around, a transformation at the deepest level.

This inner transformation, led by God’s spirit, empowers us to be faithful and transformed people, the building blocks of more faithful communities, more resilient communities, not consumed by fear, but alive with the hope that comes from faith, enlivened by the “love that casts out all fears.”

Russ Eanes lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and is the husband of Jane and father of six young adult children aged 19-33 and grandfather of two more.  He works for MennoMedia and has spent the majority of his working life somewhere along the joint axis of the Church community and publishing. Throughout Lent, we will be posting reflections on the lectionary scriptures for the day, the season of Lent and resistance and resilience in this current moment in our church and world. 


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