Lent is about impossible dreams. Lent is where deep gratitude meets deep regret, deep pain meets deep comfort, despair meets hope and dust meets glory. As I write this, unmarked Russian troops have locked off an entire nation’s army and Vladimir Putin has not blinked. Standing right behind him stands the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has become an uncomfortable ally in Putin’s centralization of power. As opposition leader Archpriest Alexei Uminsky states, “the church is trying to prove to the Kremlin it is a serious and useful player.” Before I throw stones, I must confess that my own church’s library has a few books from the Cold War which proclaim Soviet Communism as the great Leviathan needing to be defeated by the Christian West. The shoes may not be comfortable on the other foot, but they sure do fit. Must the Church always stand on the side of division and power rather than the reconciliation to which we have been called?
Jonah 3:1-10 tells of the prophet Jonah who stands against reconciliation as much as any fiery preacher or power-hungry Patriarch. His sermon to the Ninevites is essentially “You are all gonna die! And I am gonna watch you burn!” But God stands solidly on the side of reconciliation. Without any promise of restoration, the Ninevites turn to God and lay down their vicious and violent ways. The king has only the possibility of a compassionate God, and turns to the pipe dream of a God who would forgive another nation. Impossible dreams made possible, right?
Except there is no evidence anywhere of a Ninevite revival.
Let me say that again. This story never happened. The Assyrian Empire never went through a time when they followed the God of Israel. Is that because the Ninevites were truly too evil to turn? No. This story never happened because no one ever went to Nineveh. Israel, prophet and priest to the nations, never went outside their walls on the impossible dream that global reconciliation could ever happen. Jonah is a parable of the impossible dream, a message of hope carried in a leaky bucket to a thirsty land.
The story of Jonah is bone-chilling to a Lenten Church on the brink of Church-sponsored war (again). Global reconciliation doesn’t look possible. Is peace worth pursuing, or is a better bet to pursue security for me and mine? Archbishop William Temple is noted for saying, “The way of Christ has not been found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”
This year’s Lenten project is to recognize that the greatest barrier between reconciliation and reality is no greater than my own cynicism. Do you have it too? Do you believe things can be different? Perhaps this video can be a time of solitude and remembrance that God truly can turn dust into glory.