It’s been a busy couple months in the office, as we’ve been upgrading the software we use to track financial accounts and contributions. For many years, our system was intuitive and reliable on the record-keeping end, but we weren’t able to update the structure of monthly and annual reports to keep up with some changes to the funds we maintain. The new system has some advantages: it will give us new flexibility in creating regular reports; it uses a more robust approach to accounting; it will streamline some of the accounting and payroll processes Sylvia uses every month.

Notice that I didn’t say the new system is intuitive – certainly not as straightforward as the old software. There has been a steep learning curve, we’ve hit some frustrating bumps in the road, and the transition process is taking longer than we had hoped. We knew to expect some or most of this, but it’s still been a stressful time: we’re muddling through the computer equivalent of a kitchen renovation. Sylvia deserves much applause for her flexibility, determination, and hard work as we’ve gone along.

So what does this all have to do with Lent? Between mumbles and grumbles about technology, I’ve been looking ahead to the season that begins March 9. Ash Wednesday begins 40 days (not counting Sundays) of preparation for Easter. The name “Lent” comes from the lengthening of daylight in the spring, and the driving metaphor is the process of preparing the soil for planting. Traditionally, Lent means self-examination, a kind of turning over the soil of our hearts to loosen the clumps and open up space for the Good News to take root. Just as in the garden, this process can uncover all sorts of creatures and odors – some pleasantly earthy, others far less appetizing. It can make a computer upgrade seem like fun in comparison.

Well, Easter falls relatively late this year, so there’s an outside chance that we’ll dare to turn the soil during Lent, but I’m sure not digging anything yet. In our part of the world, we plant on fairly short order when we have the chance. This time of the year has more to do with getting to know the seeds themselves than with preparing the soil that will ultimately support them.

We’ll be studying the Seed as a way of preparing the soil of our hearts this year. The Gospel of John includes a number of passages where Jesus says, “I am…” In several, he simply says, “I am.” In others, he uses a metaphor: “I am the bread of life,” or “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We’ll be focusing on the seven metaphor-driven “I am” statements during Lent. In addition, the Spirituality Committee will be providing reflections to consider another dimension of the same idea.

The significance of these phrases can be lost in English translation. John uses a particular Greek construction that means more than just, “I am going to the store.” He uses a pronoun that, in everyday language, would stress the word ‘I’ – “I, and not someone else, am going to the store.” But for John’s Jewish audience, this wasn’t everyday language. The phrase ‘I am’ had religious overtones, because it’s the name God disclosed to Moses in the scene with the burning bush. So when Jesus says, “I Am,” he’s subtly but unmistakably claiming God’s name as his own. He’s usually more “show, don’t tell” about his divinity, but here he’s all but explicit.

When he announces his unity with God, Jesus doesn’t mean that we should stop with that theological idea. He insists that we carry that reality into the rest of our lives. He implies that he is with us wherever these metaphors show up. Jesus’ resurrected life is among us wherever we might be, ready to take root in our lives all over again. When we look at these images, we’ll be exploring what Jesus’ new life looks like for us.

And then, when the snow finally melts and the soil warms in the sun, we’ll be ready again to plant the seeds of new life in the world all around us. Blessed be the journey.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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