Lent Devotions: Turning toward freedom

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  

Rev. Scott Clark

Isaiah 58:1-12  

Lent invites us into a season of turning.

Ash Wednesday ushers in Lent with its call to repentance: Repent! — which in the biblical Hebrew and Greek always carries with it the sense of turning. Repent and turn — turn from sin; turn from oppression; turn from exile. As our Ash Wednesday litanies lead us in acts of contrition and repentance, they encourage us to turn from all the things that do us and the world harm.

But what are we called to turn toward?

Verse 6 of Isaiah 58 gives us more than a hint. In Isaiah 58, the prophet (speaking for God) rejects the splashy, empty fast of the people — the fast that leaves the poor poor and the hungry without food: Turn from displays of piety while you serve your own interest. Turn from oppressing the workers. Turn from the pointing of the finger and the speaking of evil. Turn from injustice and the yoke that enslaves.

And then, in verse 6, the prophet pivots. The prophet (again speaking for God) says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

Turn toward . . . freedom.

     – Turn toward the freedom to feed the hungry and to bring the homeless
        poor into your home.

     – Turn toward the freedom to break every yoke so that the oppressed go

     – Turn toward the freedom to live openly and honestly with your own kin.

     – Turn toward the freedom to participate in ordering the world so that
        everyone has enough.

That same call sounds on in the texts of the New Testament: Repent, for the reign of God is at hand. Preach good news to the poor; release the oppressed; let the prisoners go free. And, liturgically minding that call, during the season of Lent, we turn with Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward the Last Supper, toward the cross, toward resurrection — toward the freedom that we find in Christ.

This Lenten season in our devotions and prayer, we will consider how Lent invites us to turn toward freedom — and specifically, toward the freedom we find in Christ, freedom for ourselves and for all people. As we begin that conversation on this Ash Wednesday, I invite you to pray with these questions:

     – Where are you being called to turn?

     – Where do you see the world in need of turning?

     – Where are you seeing God turning the world toward freedom?

     – What can you do to help?

 Rev. Scott Clark is a chaplain and associate dean of student life at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

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