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Looking Backward, Living Forward during the Season of Lent

In many ways the season of Lent turns back the clock to help us understand who Jesus was in his life and ministry, especially as he made his way toward the crucifixion. When people of faith remember what God has done in the past, we are given courage for the present and hope for the future. It’s important to remember in order to move forward in faith.

Several years ago a film came out, based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” As the film begins, the narrator describes the 1918 opening of one of the grandest train stations in America. So grand, in fact, that on the opening day even the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, is there. The best clockmaker in the country was chosen to design the clock for the center of the station, and he worked day and night to complete it for this grand occasion.

“It was a morning to remember,” the narrator says of that opening day. With great anticipation the huge clock is unveiled, but to everyone’s surprise, the clock ticks backwards. The clockmaker, you see, had lost his son, his only child, on the battlefields of Europe during the Great War. “I made it that way,” he says in the movie, “so that perhaps the boys lost in the war might stand to come home again. Home to farm, to work, to have children, to lead normal, full lives.” And as he speaks, movie goers see old World War I footage playing backwards, explosions imploding their violent outbursts back into the ground, soldiers running backwards across the battlefields, the dead rising up to life as they join in the blessed turning back of time.

“Perhaps my own son might come home again,” the clockmaker says as the President and others take off their hats, and bow in reverent acknowledgment of the poignancy of the clockmaker’s greatest desire. “I am sorry if I offended anybody,” he concludes. “I hope you enjoy my clock.” As the film unfolds we realize that, no matter how much we sometimes wish we could go back in time, it is impossible to recapture youth that has passed us by and innocence that has been lost. However remembering the past does help us claim values for life in the present tense.

The season of Lent, beginning next week on Ash Wednesday, requires that we remember – we remember the mighty acts of God, we remember the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and we remember our own wayward wanderings. But our looking back is wholly about living forward by trying to be more grateful and faithful in our discipleship.

This coming Sunday, we will celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus, a moment when he himself was given a glimpse of the past, in order to lead him forward with faith and courage. This is the Sunday that prepares us to begin our Lenten journey toward Easter, by remembering Jesus and recommitting ourselves as his disciples.