Pathways through Lent

Weekday reflections from St. John’s in the season of Lent.

Friday in the Third Week of Lent: March 8, 2024

Writing a Lenten reflection, one is tempted to reach for an answer first and then work backwards to fill in the argument. It means applying a lens to the reading based on what you want to “sell” at the end. To quote the Irish poet pádraig ó tuama, “predetermined answers lead to lazy thinking.” God forbid we should wrestle with the readings and conclude, “I really don’t know.” Such is the challenge for this Sunday.

In the Old Testament reading for Sunday, the Israelites are complaining about the food available in the desert; but rather than send a food delivery truck, God sends poisonous snakes that bite them. Then Moses lifts up a bronze snake on a pole, and anyone who looks at it is healed. No wonder this reading is paired with the crucifixion. Jesus, we are told, must be lifted up in order to save the world. Couldn’t God have found a less violent way? This is not well ordered. It feels . . . disruptive.

Some of Sunday’s musical selections relate to this theme. The choir will sing, “For God so loved the world . . .” and “There is a Balm in Gilead.” These texts should be comforting, but they still leave unanswered the question of why God’s love for the world includes human suffering.

This Sunday is Woman Composer Sunday, in honor of International Women’s Day. The Ukrainian composer Svitlana Ostrava, who lives in Kyiv, wrote the organ prelude. If you want an example of life disrupted, imagine living in a war zone and trying to carry on your occupation as a musician. The postlude is by Clara Schumann, who, after having eight children with her husband Robert, lost him to illness and madness. She, a great virtuoso, supported the family by concertizing. Things don’t always go as planned.

The Lenten discipline I draw from these readings and hear in the music is that God is calling us to abandon easy answers, our stubborn certainty that we can control the outcome. We are saved by grace; and for that, give thanks.

Lyn Loewi
Associate Organist

Links to the appointed readings for today: