Saturday, February 25, 2012

March Madness, Extreme Pruning, and Transmutation

It was 75 degrees yesterday. Just a handful of days ago we had a little blast of winter and went to bed with a coating of wet snow on the ground and a 2 hour delay of schools for the next morning. In the South, the end of February through the month of March can bring such swings of weather madness. Days like yesterday are like an alarm going off alerting us to get ready. Spring is coming. March madness is just a few weeks out. The Durham Bulls will be back in town in about 6 weeks. And it is time to start thinking about cleaning off the screened porch and preparing the garden for new growth. It is time for up, pruning, reflecting, remembering, professing, and confessing as we are looking for the coming of all things new after winter's sleep.

I took out the pruners and began a radical work on a bush out of control by our side porch stairs. We had been talking for months about the need to prune back this bush. It had been allowed to grow to the point that it altered one's direction along the short sidewalk from the driveway to the house. It was so huge we felt we needed to ask how and when to prune so it that it had the best chance of recovering with new growth. A gardener from Duke Gardens who had planted several additions to our yard said wait until February and cut it back to about one third it's height. And so it has been done. Will this bush survive?

Lent is a time of such preparations. Sometimes our lives need such radical pruning. Preparing the way for new life requires a conscious decision to prune away the old. It can be rather scary unless we have assured knowledge that there is indeed the promise that after such a radical act there will be something new.

I stepped forward to "receive my ashes", but, just before, my friend and mentor Gloria speaks to me. She declares with confidence like that of a prophet, "Your sins have been transmuted. Christ not only died for the remission of your sins, but he transmutes them. Your sins are not just forgiven, they are transmuted. They will be completely changed and will be as if they never happened." I turned with the glory of this truth all over me and received the mark on my forehead. The pastor spoke these words,"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust", a phrase from the Anglican burial service, used sometimes to denote total finality. It is based on scriptural texts such as "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19). Even though I die, I shall then live.

So, a few days into this Lenten season, as I turn my face toward Jerusalem and follow Christ, I am trying to hear and reflect on what radical preparations I am asked to make. I have heard the call to confession. Confession for me has become a glorious thing over the years. I have learned and grown to trust in the value of acknowledging, revealing, uncovering, declaring, and announcing. The more I confess, the more I live in the freedom Christ bought for me. Confessing has become more about speaking truths out loud than about my focus on my sins. There are truths about my sins and I declare those but, at the same time, I confess loudly and declare fervently who Christ is and that the blood he shed to the point of death is sufficient to radically transmute my sin, transform my body, and transfer my very life from darkness into light. Into the increasing light I walk.

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