When I was growing up, I was an enormous fan of M*A*S*H (although I only got to know the show through reruns). For those of you who don’t remember the program, M*A*S*H was a sitcom about the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or M*A*S*H (get it?) in the Korean War. The show featured a team of wisecracking surgeons, gruff but loveable commanding officers, sassy nurses, and quirky enlisted men as they attempted to save lives close to the front lines in Korea. Of all the historical inaccuracies in the program (and there were plenty; after all, the show was on for about four times as long as the war lasted), the most striking was that this mobile hospital did not seem particularly mobile. I can only remember one episode in which the unit had to “bug out,” and it took an inordinate number of hijinks to get the job done. Of course, the show probably would have been tedious if the fictional M*A*S*H unit had to move as frequently as its real-life counterparts, but I wonder if there was a deeper reason for the fact that the hospital tended to remain in one place. Was it perhaps because people generally tend to be apprehensive about transition and change?
Our spiritual ancestors were well acquainted with transition and change, because like the denizens of the 4077, they lived in tents. The patriarchs were nomadic herdsmen who had no place to call their own. The people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years after their exodus from Egypt, to the point that there is a feast prescribed in the Old Testament meant to remind the people of their history of living in temporary dwelling-places. I think that many of us like to imagine that we have arrived wherever we are. We like to think that our current situation is permanent, that it will only change if we decide we want to move on. But our Jewish ancestors show us that we often don’t have much choice when it comes to change. Change and transition are a part of who we are; we are tent-dwelling people. And since tents get broken down and erected on a regular basis, we need to make sure that the fabric has no holes, that the tent poles are sturdy, and that the rain fly has been properly waterproofed so that it will protect us from storms.
I like to think of our Christian faith as a tent. Ideally, it does not keep us in one place. Though we would prefer to be physically and spiritually comfortable, our faith often impels to move into uncomfortable and challenging situations. But if we have a well-nurtured faith to protect us from storms, then we have a place to provide shelter and rootedness even as we deal with the realities of transition and change. I believe that Lent is one way we can fix our tents and prepare for the possibility of change. Lent comes from the Old English lencthen, which refers to the fact that the season tends to coincide with the lengthening of days (at least in the Northern hemisphere). During Lent, the days get longer, flowers begin to sprout, and the deadness of winter begins to give way to the new possibilities of spring. It is, in other words, a season of outward change. But Lent is also meant to prepare us for the ultimate change, which is the Resurrection. There is a reason that we give ourselves time to prepare for the the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. Lent is a time when we can mend the holes in the fabric of our tent and replace the poles that have rusted out. During Lent we try to live our spiritual lives with more focus, more discipline, and more intentionality so that when the time comes, we can be ready to allow the Resurrection to change us and to transform us in a meaningful way.