by Ken Rolheiser
Lent, Deuteronomy and chocolate

On a recent Sunday morning in Lent, I was looking around the church and seeing a very sparse attendance. My thoughts were on Lent and everyone’s concern about what to give up for Lent. The answer that morning was, “Go to church on Sunday.” Start a regular prayer life and be faithful to it. Show up! Don’t worry about giving up chocolate.

The readings for Lent include Deuteronomy and that is no accident. Forty years of wandering (or is it wondering) in the desert should have taught God’s people something about faithful reliance on God. The first verses appeal to the people to be faithful and obedient, and in particular to keep clear of all possible idolatry.

In Chapter 5 Moses presents the Ten Commandments to the people. First and foremost, we must be faithful to the one God and not follow idols. That applies to Sunday mornings. There follows an appeal to the people to be faithful and obedient. Avoid idolatry. And a resume of Israel’s moral and civil statutes, testimonies and judgments follows.

Chapter 11 ends with a directive to teach all this to our children. State them over and over again, whether at rest or at your rising. Put it on our doorposts! Do we pass on the faith of our fathers to our children? Our example is so important. Go to church!

Chapters 12-26 deals with a code of special statutes concerning worship, purity, tithes, the three annual feasts, the administration of justice, kings, priests, prophets, war, and the private and social life of the people. Holiness is its ideal. 

Our faithfulness extends to how we treat our neighbors and to all the liturgical celebrations in the church. We need to show up for all these celebrations; not just as C.E.O.’s (Christmas and Easter Only).

If we accept the terms of our covenant – that Yahweh is our God and we are his people, following his laws – then we will inherit the blessings and not the curses. Chapter 27 lists a dozen curses, but Chapter 28 lists the blessings on all our undertakings – a great store of good things, a people consecrated to God. 

There is a great pay-off for making the correct choice: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). The Book of Joshua follows the book of Deuteronomy and the Lord leads him to the promised land.

Father Michael Rennier, a convert to Catholicism, shares his Easter experience and its promise. Rennier quotes a passage from Ursula Guin’s novel The Dispossessed: “If you can see a thing whole, it seems that it’s always beautiful … [but]close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks… You need distance. …” 

"The way to see how beautiful life is,” Rennier says, “is from the vantage point of death.” Lent can give us that experience of seeing the whole of our lives from the vantage point of death. “Contemplating our mortality is an invaluable exercise because it reveals the whole of our lives – the beginning, the middle, the end.”

Through Lent and Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that still happens to us. Each of us receives the gift of new life and the power to accept it and to live by it. This gift changes everything in this world, including death.

Death is no more. We will face it someday, but Christ has changed the nature of death and made it a passage – a Passover.

(576 words)