The Apostle Paul, writing in his second letter to the Church in Corinth, quotes from Isaiah when he writes, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” In quoting this Scripture he reminds his fellow apostles and those who have been appointed ministers at Corinth that this is the time to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. In quoting Isaiah he implies there will be a time when no one will or can preach the Good News. In other words the Good News and preaching Christ is urgent.
Isaiah wrote of Israel’s ultimate triumph by being faithful. However, Paul understands that it is those who are faithful through Christ Jesus who are reconciled with God. They will overcome the power of evil and death. The Good News is of reconciliation; the promise of the Scriptures is God seeks reconciliation. God seeks reconciliation in and with the whole world—both Jew and Gentile.
Earlier in his letter to the Corinthians (earlier in chapter five) Paul claims he is an ambassador for Christ further indicating that Jesus is God’s ambassador—that is, Jesus represents the will of God by standing in for God, accepting the sin of the world when he died on the cross. In Paul’s view, Jesus, who is sinless, is made a man of sin when he is nailed on the cross. In accepting this role, Jesus accepted sin’s punishment—accepting sin for all humanity. That is essentially the meaning of Christ’s death. Thus, if Christ who is God’s ambassador, it follows that Paul, who is Christ’s ambassador, believes he can do no less than to accept the same call to face the world. In accepting his role as Christ’s ambassador, Paul teaches the same reconciling good news that Christ gave to the world in his death on the cross.
This is an urgent message. Paul fears a time when humanity will no longer listen or when humanity will be in a place where the message of God’s willingness or wish to reconcile cannot be heard. By its own wilfulness humanity’s openness to God will be closed off. Thus the time of God’s favor is not limitless and Paul urges everyone who has accepted the message of Christ’s reconciling act to be active in preaching and practicing the Good News of Christ.
As a man in Holy Orders of the Episcopal Church, an extension and living continuation of the apostolic ministry ordained by Christ, my task is not to call the people to be saved but to call the baptized to preach and live a ministry of reconciliation. When Paul writes, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” He knows those to whom he is writing are saved. They have committed themselves to Christ in their baptisms. Paul and wants it understood among the ministers at Corinth that the acceptable time means the day of salvation is here and now. Therefore, go out now and preach that truth to the world. Paul admonishes the Corinthians, because they believe they have what they need for their own salvation. However, for the baptized that is not enough. Followers of Christ cannot be idle and self-content. If they do not act to make the saving reconciliation available to everyone, there will come a time when they cannot offer that gift of reconciliation to anyone.
Time is of the essence! This is the message of Lent.
A few days ago, I was asked what I was planning to give up for Lent. That question never makes me happy. Giving up something for Lent to me is often a meaningless exercise. If I give up something I like, such as sweets, I am not making a significant sacrifice. Any of us can go days on end without something we like to eat or do. No matter what we give up we continue to eat, drink, and doing. Simply giving up sweets or some favorite drink is not fasting. A true sacrificial fast is not eating for a full day or days. Unless you are physically well enough to do so, fasting is not recommended. I answered the question by saying, “I think I will give up eating Ritz Crackers. While I like them a lot, I can safely go without them and in fact have many times.” That does seem trivial to me. We should not trivialize Lent. What then should we do?
Paul tells us what we are to do in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He instructs, be conscious of time, be conscious of life, and use that time to live as Christ’s ambassadors.
Christians are people who have recognized that God has reconciled with the world through the one who knew no sin. The Christian task, therefore, is live as if Christ’s gift of himself on the cross matters. We, as Paul, are ambassadors for Christ by the way live, our willingness to meet the challenges of ignorance, poverty, and hatred.
Christians, during the days of Lent are to use this time to give something to make the world around them a better place, instead of giving up chocolate, or in my case Ritz Crackers, Christians must use the time of Lent to demonstrate what unconditional love is, how hatred can be challenged, and work to make reconciliation a reality to those who need it the most.
Christians are called to live a Holy Lent more than they are called to observe the season.