Fighting 45: A Lenten Reflection

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Lent is a period of time which for many Christian traditions is observed during the forty days leading up to the Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  For the ancient Church, Lent was that time when those who were preparing for the sacrament of Baptism undertook special spiritual and practical disciplines to prepare for their entrance into the Church, the body of Christ.  Then, as now, Lent is forty days of preparatory contemplation, discipline, and prayer.  Forty is a serendipitous number which appears in the bible countless times and is the context by which Lent’s multivalent meanings unfold – floods, exile, criminal punishments, mountaintop respites, spying, and wilderness wandering all lasted 40 days. Today’s Lent, like all of the other forties before it, is a period of testing and trial.  It is a dangerous time and a time of great opportunity.  It is a time to see what you can see inside of yourself and the world around you.  It is a time to see God more dimly and clearly.

For me, as a Christian pastor, the Lenten discipline’s central symbol is Jesus’ forty day fast in the wilderness where he was tested by the devil.  Jesus’ holy forty day fast is not brought about by an act of volition, but by the Spirit of God dragging Jesus from the waters of Baptism/Flood/Wandering/Death into a dangerous place where Jesus’ calling, identity, and purpose were tested.

Jesus’ forty day fast ends not with a feast, but temptation.  Famished and tired Jesus peers into the devil’s eyes and hears the words, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  The hardest temptation is always the easiest one to give in to.  Prove yourself to me! Jesus resisted.

Jesus’ resistance earned him the title, “King of the Jews,” or in common parlance, enemy of the state!  Jesus’ resistance delivered him not to a throne but a cross!  Jesus’ ministry was one of resistance.  He resisted the devil – “worship me,” the disciples – “get behind me Satan!,”  the religious and political elites – “Who do you say that I am,” the rich – “sell all that you have and follow me,” the xenophobes – “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith,” the racists – “Samaritan woman,” and perhaps the most dangerous, the precious moderates who defended the status quo – “don’t heal the leper,” “don’t talk to women,” “don’t let the children come to you,” and “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Ours, ours is a time of wilderness tests, forty day fasts, and devils with spray tans and cotton candy hair.  The church’s long history of silence in the face of tyranny is well documented, from quoting the Bible to affirm slavery to the denial of marriage equality and ministry to GLBTQ folks.  Today, our spiritual discipline, should we have any, is to resist 45’s white nationalist agenda as though our ecclesial past, present, and future depend on it.

My Lenten Discipline has been to resist 45 by walking in faith rather than succumb to the comfortable confines of a pacified spiritual middle which says nothing and does nothing even more.  Resistance is about faith, not reason.  Faith begins where reason ends.  It is unreasonable to believe that my work will make a difference.  It is foolhardy to think that my church will support me in these endeavors, at least not all of them.  It is extremely brazen to anger those people who pay my salary and provide shelter for my family.  Hate crimes against those bold enough or stupid enough to resist have gone up since Nov. 7, 2016.  Do I cast my lot among the recipients of aggression?

Answers to these reasonable questions and concerns have been the defacto creed of the Church for a long time and we know how that story goes – slavery, patriarchy, segregation, homophobia, xenophobia, racism and all manner of oppression.  Yet, what accompanies this historical narrative, however, are those either bold or foolish enough to faithfully heed God’s call which birthed beloved communities, spears crushed into ploughshares, lions befriending lambs, abolitionists, suffragettes, sanctuaries, homeless shelters, and interfaith relationships to name a few.

Today, we must resist not because we will “win” nor because we will make a difference.  We resist today because resistance is faithful and faithfulness is about living the life that the Church is called to live regardless of circumstance or consequence.  We march because in so doing we are, like Jesus, entering the wilderness parched because of prevailing injustices yet determined to walk in the Way of the One who goes before us.  We protest because most of the slogans written on placards are a modern day translation of Jesus’ beatitudes.  We chant loud and sing clear because immigrant and refugee voices have been silenced.  We resist!

For Lent I, and countless others, have resisted 45, the president of the United States of America.  Together, we helped stay the deportation of a man who has lived in the US for over twenty years.  We have created sanctuary houses of worship and communities.  We have boldly reported hate crimes.  We have protested Muslim Bans 1 and 2.0 in airports.  We have called for the closure of for profit detention centers.  While not a desert wilderness, we have resisted in the snow, rain, bitter cold, and blustery wind.  We have resisted 45, and won.  Resist!

Rev. Carmine Pernini currently serves Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rahway which is a member church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America where he serves on the Anti-Racism team. He is also a coordinator for the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council, a steering committee member of the New Jersey Clergy Coalition for Justice and the New Jersey Interfaith Coalition, and part of the Faith in New Jersey Clergy Caucus. Rev. Pernini attended Monmouth University, NJ where he studied performing arts with a concentration in Jazz Double Bass. From here, he went on to graduate school to study classical Double Bass at the Hartt School of Music, Hartford, CT. Rev. Pernini received his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is currently completing a Master of Sacred Theology from the same institution. Rev. Pernini’s wife, Kathryn Irwin, is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Nutley, NJ, and they have three children under 5.

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