Monday, March 14, 2011

Clean Monday

Until the age of ten, I attended a Presbyterian Church.  Easter meant a new dress, white shoes, an Easter basket filled with chocolate bunnies and pastel eggs, hidden around the yard.  It also meant the resurrection of Jesus, but I was a kid and didn't think about the profundity of that event.

When I got a little older, I attended an Evangelical Free Church, and mostly because I was older, I began thinking about the resurrection.  But I still wanted chocolate bunnies.

And then when I got married, at the ripe age of 18, I started attending Assembly of God churches.   Not much changed.

As far as I know, none of these churches observed Lent.  And we didn't think a lot about Jesus on the cross, or his betrayal, his incredible suffering, or his death.

And now I'm older, and I want to think about these things.  And so I'm joining millions of Christians in fasting during this time of year.

My fast starts today, Clean Monday.  I read about Clean Monday last week and mentioned it in a previous post.

I had never heard of it before, actually, and I was sort of curious as to its significance.  Have I mentioned how much I love Google and Wikipedia?

Roman Catholics start fasting on Ash Wednesday, but Eastern Orthodox Christians begin today.  The term Clean Monday describes leaving behind sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods.  Technically, the fast begins on the preceding Sunday night at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which ends with a Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness.  Worshipers bow down before one another and ask forgiveness, and in this way they begin Lent with a clean conscience and with a renewed sense of love for Christian community.

I wish I learned this earlier--this could have been a really profound thing to do with close friends or as a church.  The whole week is often known as "Clean Week" and worshipers go to Confession during the week and clean their houses totally thoroughly.  (I wonder if this was the beginning of Spring Cleaning, but that really is an irrelevant question.)

The theme of Clean Monday, to be read at the Sixth Hour, and I'm not positive what time that is but I think it's noon, is from Isaiah 1:1-20.  I totally missed the Sixth Hour, but I think it's worth taking the time to look at this because, in this time of fasting when we remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we hearts set on honoring him, by loving him and serving others.

Isaiah, speaking to the people of Israel, whose country is being completely torn apart, asks,
What makes you think I want your sacrifices?  I'm sick of watching you follow my law with your actions, but not with your hearts.  I'm really not interested in your worship services--you're worshiping with ceremonies, but not with your hearts.   
So I'm done.  I don't want your meaningless gifts, and as for your special days for fasting? they are all sinful and false.  When you lift up your hands in prayer, I don't see you because your your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.   
And I know you didn't actually kill anybody, but I see the way you treat people, people in the church and people out of the church.  I see the way you look at them; I hear the way you speak about them in your thoughts.   
So now, if you want me to hear you, wash yourselves and be clean.  Give up your evil ways and learn to do good.   
Seek justice, not just for the people you think deserve it, but for everyone.  Help the oppressed, even if you don't think they deserve to be helped.   
Defend the rights of the orphans and widows, the poor, the hopeless, even if you think they should take care of themselves.   
My heart is full of love and compassion.  Look at the life of Jesus, and you will see how I love you, how I love the people you despise.   
Let's settle this once and for all.  Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.  They are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.  You cannot make yourselves clean.  Only I can do that.  
Turn to me.  Follow me.  Become like me.  Obey my greatest command, to love one another.  And I will make you--your nation--your community--clean.   
I will hear your prayers.  I will bless you. 
But if you turn away, if you keep doing what you've been doing all along, with your fasts and your worthless ceremonies, you--as a nation--as a community--will be destroyed.
As I read through this passage and paraphrase it, I am struck by the fact that God's words are for those supposedly follow him, not for those who don't.  And so it follows that these words are for us.  How often do we begin to go through the motions of following God, but our hearts aren't quite in synch with what we are doing?

And so it seems good, once a year, to take time to return to God, as a community, as a church, as a global body of believers, and say, we want to love like you love.  We want to live in a way that pleases you.  We want to honor you.  We want to be clean.

Please make a clean.

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