“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return”
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
Lent is my favorite liturgical season. The intentional preparation, the call to examine our lives, and the way the six weeks of somber muted visuals give way to joyful Easter color is the high drama that fills my soul every year. Lent is also a season that peels away our natural inclination to turn Christian traditions into branded merchandise and holiday décor.
It is, however, not a season that lends itself easily to coordinated baked goods. My initial research on traditional Ash Wednesday pastry or dessert I came up empty. There are lots of recipes for King Cakes to celebrate Epiphany, and Polish Paczkis that are traditional ways to celebrate the Tuesday before Lent, once you get into the meatless abstinence of the 40 days before Easter, sugar, chocolate, and dessert in general become things to reject rather than celebrate.
This brings me to one of my favorite Lenten writings by Duke Professor and holy agitator Amy Laura Hall. In it she recommends eating chocolate for Lent or taking on a practice that pushes back on the toxic cultures that try to oppress or repress people (primarily women) in our society. Her subversive paper has always resonated with me in this season. Not because I want an excuse for chocolate before Easter, but because it aligns with the stream of justice that always flows in parallel to deeper discipleship.
As we fast or take on disciplines that bring us closer to God, we should find ourselves more open to those who are hurting and oppressed. We should find ourselves more sympathetic with those we previously rolled our eyes at or simply dismissed. The closer we get to Jesus the more we closer we should get to those that Jesus spent the most time within his early life. As we start this Lenten season, I would ask those questions of whatever practice you have chosen to do for the next 40 days. Each Sunday as you break your fast and worship, check in and see if they are working as God would want them to. If they are not, change them! There is no medal at the end of Lent for those who kept the same discipline throughout the season. These next 40 days are a gift the church gives to us. They are an opportunity to focus on our relationship to Jesus, to wrestle with our sinfulness, and to make steps toward a life of holiness and community. I hope that you find in them the sweetness and joy that a life in the Spirit contains.
Transforming God, You created us from the dust of the earth and breathed into us the breath of life. As we have grown, our preference for sin over your Spirit has caked our lives with the grunge of our own shortcomings. And still your loves beckons us with the possibility of transformation and the hope of newness of life each day. so wash clean through the love of Christ, and let the dust of our past be the point of recreation within so that they love that saves us becomes the love we share with the world. Amen.
Recipe: Lemon Loaf
Lemon Quick Bread, King Arthur Flour
In the absence of any traditional recipes for Ash Wednesday, I went with a lemon loaf. Lemons are often the symbol of things that are bitter in life, but they are also an ingredient that is used in both sweet and savory dishes to brighten up the flavors. As I baked this loaf, I found myself reflecting on the consistency of my discipleship. The sins and shortcomings in my life and in my history flavor the disciple that I am called to be. They help me to be more humble, they allow me to be in community with others, they drive me to be grateful for the life that I have. We can focus our attention too much on the presence of sin in our lives, or the sinfulness of our past. Through Jesus, these sins are not just forgiven, but they are transformed into characteristics and practices that help us to be better disciples and allow us to be in ministry to others more effectively. This looks different for different people, however, the consistency of it all is that God calls and uses all of us and this includes who were not just who we are now. Just as the bitterness of the lemon would be overpowering at first, in the context of the dough (and helped with the sugar!) the bitter flavor balances the sweet so that they support each other