We’re sailing in closer now to Holy Week, and like a fragrance from a still unseen shore, I feel it on the horizon. Yesterday’s Sunday was the story of the Prodigal. Sermons have been posted on the web, and friends have sent me theirs. I passed some of them on to members of the congregation, and one of them said she’s heard so many perspectives on the Prodigal son this week, that she’d thought she’d try her own.
And I thought that’s exactly right: because preaching, among other things, is supposed to attract the listeners to hearing the word in terms of their own lives and own perspectives. Jesus, after all, did come into people’s lives, their homes, their villages, their streets, and ministered each to each in his or her own context. The kingdom breaks into where we are.
This week started here, though, with a return to Old Testament stories and floods. We had a minor flood in the church undercroft, and at this writing, our sump pump is still going. Most of the water was gone by mid-day, and helping hands manned the mops to sop up what was left. People made jokes about the arrival of the Ark. I was grateful it wasn’t worse–we’ve seen it worse.
Luther mentioned in more than one place, that we don’t have to invent spiritual disciplines to bring ourselves to contrition and penitence. Life will do that for us. Tragic events, personal trials, financial woes, family discord, you name it, life will bring us to a place of prayer. He writes of prayer as the heart’s beseeching, our heartfelt longing for God. Today’s small flood is just one of those examples of being brought up short by events we can’t control. And it was minor compared to what so many others have faced this season, with earthquakes and high winds, war, hungry and hurt people.
My Confessions professor, Dr. Timothy J. Wengert, lost his wife the spring before I went to seminary. Several months after her death he wrote a beautiful essay on Luther’s theology of the Cross. In it, he spoke of his late wife’s take on prayer. At one point, during her illness, she had gone to an introduction to a Centering prayer class. When she came home, he asked her what she thought. Although many people love centering prayer, she herself was not moved by it. Her answer was very Lutheran: “if you want to learn to pray, get cancer.” It was one of those stark truths–such things do lead us to deeper prayer. We can’t help it, because sometimes it’s all we can do: fall back on God, fall into God’s arms, fall at God’s feet and pray with all our hearts.
We’ll see Jesus doing that kind of prayer, too, in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s the kind of prayer the Prodigal son prayed in the fields with the pigs, and on the road home to the father. Lent brings us to such places, just by what happens in our lives, and the light that grace sheds upon us.
May God continue to your light your way home.