‘“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.’ Isaiah 58.3-4
I can still hear his voice echoing across the lounge at the Student Center in Lincoln. “JOHNSON, WHAT ARE YOU GIVING UP FOR LENT?” Every. Freaking. Year.
Larry Meyer loved Lent like nobody’s business. Students at Lutheran Student Center in Lincoln put out a Lenten devotional every year, and I’m not sure if Larry started it or not, but he certainly made sure it continued under his watch. Every year he’d give up smoking his pipe at the Center (and didn’t we notice, we who knew him, that his trips away from the Center picked up a bit during those 40 days?). And we would do Holy Week impressively, too – from the Passover Seder (which came complete with warnings about the requisite 4 glasses of wine in the feast and how this was NOT the Lutheran Center drunk) to Good Friday sunrise service to Easter Sunday, even though many of us were homeward bound that weekend. You wouldn’t think a man as relentlessly positive would enjoy such a penitential season, but he did – that’s just who he was.
So, every Ash Wednesday I think of Larry these days. I believe I called him the first few Ash Wednesdays I served as an ordained minister, before the cancer got so bad that I didn’t feel comfortable imposing on him and his family. Now that Larry’s gone, I think of him as I make my own Lenten discipline plans. I think of the year I finally told him it was none of his damn business what I was giving up, that he needed to read Matthew 6 again, and the way he smiled so wide when I said it. Like I’d gotten something right and he was proud, you know, and even though Larry was friendly, praise from Larry didn’t come cheap. You had to look for it sometimes.
So, Larry, as you rest in the arms of Jesus, know that I’m still doing Lenten disciplines, and they’re still none of your damn business – it’s between me and my Lord. But you knew that all along, didn’t you? You knew it was never about who could give up the most. You knew it was always about what you’d learn about yourself along the way, and you knew it was about focusing on God more than anything else. Now you get to focus on God all the time, and I’m a tiny bit jealous, even if I’m in no hurry to join you. Until the day we get to do it together, I’ll just have to think of you as I begin the journey of Lent, and smile.
But I will tell you this, Larry: I’m not giving up Canadian bacon & Sauerkraut pizza.** You taught me better than that.
Grace & peace,
*It is actually his middle name, "Lee," but the pun was just too good to pass up.
**Hm. In retrospect, I guess this means I'm not giving up meat for Lent this year. Or am I?Decisions, decisions...