In Gunnison on Sunday, the first prayer voiced by the congregation was for Jimmy Carter. Just the day before, news had come that the former President was now receiving hospice care at home. Although none of us in the sanctuary that morning belonged to the Carter family or lived in Plains, GA, this word hit us like we were indeed his family, like we were, in fact, Carter’s neighbors. I suspect this was true for you, and for most Americans right now.
We don’t have many heroes these days, but it’s fair to say that President Carter qualified as one. Whether or not you found his leadership as President inspiring, certainly his post-Presidency years are filled with one example after another of his humble heroism. Like the One who claimed and guided him for 98 years, Carter’s life was devoted to selfless service and was ever pointed in the direction of love and justice.
Jimmy Carter has long shown us how to live. Now he is quietly teaching us how to embrace the part of life that includes death. His decision to forgo further medical interventions and to be surrounded by family and loved ones in his final days causes me to wonder how prepared I am to yield instead of fight, to trust love’s ways rather than insist on my own.
Just as President Carter is bearing witness to a life that does not fear or resist death, so during Lent, we hold space for Jesus to be our teacher and guide. While it’s tempting to busy ourselves with other concerns and to keep Jesus’ story at arm’s length, drawing near to Jesus in the coming weeks will enable us to receive what he has to give.
In order for this to happen, though, we may need to revisit and reassess our understanding of who Jesus is for us. It’s with this in mind that Sundays during Lent will invite us to ponder the question Jesus posed to his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Diana Butler Bass’ recent book, Freeing Jesus, will inform our thinking, as will a number of other contemporary influences.
Because many of us grew up believing we had to give the same answer our churches gave with respect to his identity, we may be hesitant to trust that Jesus genuinely wants us to answer his question for ourselves, embracing our doubts, hesitancies, and deep intuitions as we go. Our Lenten season journey together is meant to give us bold courage and abiding companionship as we seek to answer Jesus with calm honesty and enlivening integrity.
As Lent begins, let us step with Jesus onto the path that points toward chilling shadows and difficult realities. Let us go with him as he teaches us how to let love govern our every thought and action.
With you on the journey,
PS: If you are interested in diving a little more deeply into Jesus’ question and would like recommendations for resources, please reach out to me, and I will make some suggestions.