It seems to happen every Thursday. I try to work around it, but it happens anyway. I arrange for it to occur while I am sleeping, but usually it greets me as soon as sit down at my desk. And when it does appear, I just have to wait. I can moan. I can groan. I can plead that I have a really important job to do and can’t this just wait?!! But it is going to happen. It needs to happen. Just get over it.
I don’t know about you Mac people, but thanks to the nice people in Redmond, Washington, all this is just a fact of life for us PC people.
What I am talking about is, of course, the weekly Windows update and the need for some of those to make my computer(s) reboot. Even when I give permission the night before for the reboot to happen while I sleep, it will sometimes hit some step that will require my permission to proceed. Which is very polite, I must admit, but it is hard not to feel annoyed.
But what can you do? Nothing. Just sit back, take a sip from your coffee (or, in my case, my keg’o’iced tea), and just wait.
So, there I’ll sit, staring at my screen while the little spinney thing spins away on my screen, thinking that this can’t be very productive.
I used to resent it. (Well, okay, sometimes I still do.) But… it just is. Get over it. And besides, I need it.
Every now and then, I’ll come across a person who has never given permission for the weekly update, or who always puts it off. They say “nope, not today! I’m just too busy to stare my screen for one or three or five minutes, and even if it runs in the background, I don’t care. I’ll do it later!”
Only “later” never comes, and then some day when they really need to machine to work, they will discover that the various apps and software will no longer talk to each other or to you, their system is no longer supported, or (God forbid) your machine catches a virus and if it runs at all, it runs as if it trying to run through wet concrete in snow shoes.
So, like it our not, every now and then we need an update and a reboot.
This might be a useful way to think about Lent and what we are doing for Ash Wednesday today. Rebooting. Doing a mild, annual, systems check and update. Nothing drastic, mind you. Just maintenance.
As I was contemplating Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians assigned for Ash Wednesday: he talks about all the hardships and calamites that were happening to him and those early Christians and that through it all they have endured. But it wasn’t by accident: it took “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.”
And this doesn’t come by the push of a button. It takes practice and it takes focus.
When think about Lent, what do you think about? Do you think about giving something up or deciding to change a habit… and do you live in fear (or in the certainty) that you will fail? Maybe even after a few days or even hours? Do you look at Lent as a six-week New Year’s resolution?
Lent is, instead, a tithe of our time when choose to get ready to remember and observe Jesus’ life, his passion, his execution, and his resurrection. We are getting ready for the Passion and to celebrate Easter. It is a big party, worthy of quality preparation.
Besides, we need it. Just as our bodies need sleep or else we go a little cuckoo, or exercise or else we get achy, flabby, and tired, or relationships or else we become self-absorbed. That’s why nearly every religious tradition has some way of setting aside time to pray, reflect, listen, and… re-boot. If we don’t do this, our faith becomes at best a to-do list, a thing to fill up time, maybe even a mere entertainment.
Have you ever met someone who never bothered to do that Lenten reboot or anything like it? Maybe they have a spirituality that never challenges but reinforces their deepest assumptions. Or they are allergic to anything that requires them to look beyond themselves. Maybe they are only going from one day to the next in a kind of lifelong reactivity-fest. Or maybe they just can’t imagine life being any different, or better, or that they have responsibility for the people or world around them, so why bother? Maybe it comes from a deep skepticism that anything other than rock-solid, material living matters so to them we have no choice but to just look out for number one and too bad for all the others.
Or maybe they’ve become so immersed in their pain that all they can do is just swim in it, perhaps numbing themselves with substances, or work, or experiences as they go.
Don’t ask me how I might know about any of this! But that’s why it’s important for us to stop, listen, look around, and if necessary, re-boot. Jesus said elsewhere in the Gospels that he came that we might have life and have it in abundance, and that life starts when we choose to stop doing the things we are doing in the way we’ve always done them.
Still, we’ll forget things. Something will slip our mind. We will have great intentions and even if things went as perfectly as we can imagine, there will still be some “oops,” a forehead-slapping, face-palm moment, where we’ll say “I can’t believe that happened….”
But don’t give up. The very failure you fear is an occasion to set things aright. Remember, the measure of success is not that we a flaw-free Lent, but that our hearts, our minds, our souls, are ready to walk with Jesus to the Cross, sit in the darkness of the tomb, and celebrate His resurrection in joy. It will be a time to cheer on those who are being baptized, and give thanks in the companionship of this and other Christian communities. It is a time to discover again that the Lenten journey leads to Easter living, and it is a journey of both grace and intention.
So when we decide to focus a little more on prayer, we are rebooting.
Or when we decide to give up certain foods or set aside certain practices, we are trying for an upgrade.
Or when we choose to do something concrete and personally challenging to care for the poor or the outcast or the lonely, we are attempting to reorient our thinking and our doing.
It’s not just our phones, computers, or devices that need a periodic update. We all do. It’s just that it takes time. Sometimes we can reboot and still go on with our living. The rub is that it’s not done by clicking on a radio button. Sometimes we need to just stop, listen to the silence. Do without for a moment. Think about who and whose we are. Upgrade. Reboot.
This is what Lent is. It is a tithe of our year which allows us to practice letting God in. During Lent we clean out the old useless code, er, uhm, our old way of being (!), and experiment with something new. And in this way of living we will make ourselves ready to let in Jesus, who has already lived, died, and rose again, and to walk with him through his passion so that we may discover, live, and share the love we know as his friends and apprentices. Have a happy and holy Lent, and above, relish the re-boot!
Ash Wednesday sermon, February 26, 2020 at Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA.