Overall View of the Lessons for Lent in Year A

Care of Creation Ecological themes for Lent in Year A (2014)

An Overview by Dennis Ormseth


First Sunday in Lent

The Lenten journey begins in wilderness, proceeds through the land we call holy, towards Jerusalem. The ecological footprint of this journey thus covers both wilderness and the territory of settled human habitation, and raises questions of a more general nature involving the relationship between humans and the rest of creation. In his response to the three temptations, Jesus exhibits respect for the limits of human transformation of nature, he refuses transcendence over nature, and he declines to engage in the pusuit of power and wealth so destructive of the earth. Thus does he conform to the expectation set forth in Genesis 2 regarding human care of creation: obedience to the will of God clearly involves service to God's creation. Said differently, Jesus refuses to participate in the dominion of death offered by Satan, in favor of dependence upon God in the dominion of life.


Second Sunday in Lent

That dominion of life is inherent in God's promises to Abraham and Sarah: God's presence with them will be accompanied by gifts of land, progeny, and such notable flourishing as to be a blessing both for his own family and for "all the families of the earth. Nicodemus comes to Jesus out of the dark to see if he is "God with us." Jesus instructs him that perceiving that Presence is a gift that comes with being born of "water and Spirit," the originating powers of creation to be unleashed in the mission of Jesus, according to John the evangelist, for the sake of the whole cosmos. Todays readings thus serve to bring into focus the claim of Joseph Sittler that "a doctrine of redemption is meaningful only when it swings within the larger orbit of a doctrine of creation."


Third Sunday in Lent

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman carries forward the concern about God's presence in relationship to "water and the Spirit," but now also with reference to mountains, specifically Gerazim and Zion. with their rival claims to divine presence. While the association of God's presence with water points to the importance of water for life on earth (as Larry Rsmusen hs said with reference to our blue planet, "no blue, no green, no green, no you"), the connection between divine presence and mountains as central features of the ecological systems that provide water resources to arid lands is undoubtedly equally significant. For people in Minnesota, that connection may not be so evident, and, in any case, as we see in the Gospel, the presence of God is for us, as for the Samaritan woman, clearly tied more to Jesus himself than either mountain of worship. But if Jesus is the servant of creation in the dominion of life, then surely those who follow him will be engaged in care for the resources of water that flow through our land. People who are "born of water and the Spirit" really cannot practice their faith without them.


Fourth Sunday in Lent

The importance of water for our faith is a presupposition for appropriating the meaning of our texts for this Sunday. As the Psalm 23 reminds us, "still waters" are a sign of God's love and human well-being; indeed the Shepherd is deemed good precisely because he provides that water. And the water of the pool of Siloam, where Jesus sends the man born blind to wash, is part of the temple complex in Jerusalem and thereby associated with God's presence on Zion. Again Jesus appropriates for himself the significance of that water, and so we can regard him as our good shepherd and the Servant of God's creation. But will we see this connection? The Pharisees don't, due to their theological conviction that the man's blindness is a punishment for sin. What convictions do we hold that keep us from seeing the connection and acting on it for the healing of creation? Do we live with Jesus in the dominion of life or under the dominion of death?


Fifth Sunday in Lent

The readings for this Sunday bring us to the arena in which the dominions of life and death come to engage in their final battle in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Fear of death and its power to destroy life hangs over the episode.  Jesus' disciples fear going to Jerusalem. When Jesus learns that his friend is near death, he seems to dally. The raising of Lazarus sets the chief priests and Pharisees to planning Jesus' death. The chief priest surmises that death has its good uses.  So what place does death have in God's will for the creation? If it's not punishment for sin, then what is its meaning? How does Jesus' death in particular serve God's love for creationall creation?


Passion Sunday

The first reading from  Isaiah 50 identifies Jesus as the one who serves God by faithfully serving creation, and suffers on account of that service. The second reading underscores that identification, placing it in cosmic perspective. Thus as the reading of the passion story begins with the departure of Judas to betray Jesus, we are alert to the creational scope of the narrative as the conflict between the dominion of death and the dominion of life. The meal which looks forward ritually to a flourishing life in the presence of God in the land God promised Israel, becomes a sign of the betrayal of God's purposes by those who govern the land as part of the dominion of death. Jesus' blessing of the bread and wine, however, in turn restore the meal through its connection with release from sin and death to an anticipation of the future resoration of all creation. It is accordingly significant that it is in a garden that Jesus once again confirms his role as the service of creation who does God's will "on earth as it is in heaven." There Jesus refuses the way of violence and participation in the dominion of death, whose powers  successively unite against him, catching up even Jesus' own disciples, as the crow of the cock reminds us. Through each stage of the action, Jesus remains faithful to the rule of the servant of creation: it is not what he wants, but what God wants that governs his action, namely the healing and restoration of creation. His death is therefore announced by the elements: the light of creation dims, the earth shudders, and having been broken open by the earthquake, receives its Lord. A great stone is placed over the opening, the non-human creation's witness that he is now truly dead, but later, that he has risen from the dead.