I Corinthians 13, Jean Val Jean and Lent
This is my first contribution to the PBC faculty blog, so let me introduce myself. My name is James Enns and I am a historian, whose specialization is the history of modern Christian missions. That’s my day job. I am also an ordained Anglican priest serving as priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas church here in Three Hills. That is my other vocational hat, which I wear mainly on weekends. I wasn’t born Anglican; rather I married into it. My wife, Anne, was raised Anglican; I grew up in a church environment best described as generic Baptist, within the milieu of conservative evangelicalism. As I found myself more at home in the Anglican liturgy and tradition, I also discovered a calling to ministry: first as a lay-reader and vestry member, and then as an ordained minister.
Last Wednesday our church held its Ash Wednesday service, which marks the beginning of Lent, that period of preparation in the Calendar of the Church Year leading up to season of Easter. Lent invites us to enter the Gospel story alongside Jesus during his forty-day sojourn and fast in the wilderness, withstanding the temptations of Satan. Lent is a time when we are encouraged to practice some form of self-denial, forego some of our usual creature comforts in order to exercise disciplines of self-giving love which characterized Jesus’ earthly ministry, culminating in the cross. In the Revised Common Lectionary (used by many Protestant denominations) of Bible readings for the Sundays leading up to Lent, the New Testament passages are from the epistle of I Corinthians, most recently the thirteenth chapter. “Love is patient, love is kind…it is not self-seeking…does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. [Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (NIV). One could not ask for a better primer for Lent.
Last month two of my daughters and I went to see the long-awaited movie version of the Broadway musical hit, Les Misérables. While I came away believing the stage version superior to its big screen adaptation, nonetheless the movie reminded me anew of the gospel-rich nature of Victor Hugo’s magnificent story. While the movie’s release date was Christmas Day, quite appropriate given the story’s unapologetic Christian message, on further reflection I think Ash Wednesday would have been more appropriate. Hugo’s story of Jean Val Jean, the hardened convict whose soul is “bought” for God through the kindness of a local Catholic Priest, is primarily a Lenten journey. Unlike many evangelical personal testimonies, Val Jean’s conversion is not the climax of a pilgrimage toward faith, but the beginning of the path of refinement through suffering that leads to sainthood. In that journey we see the truth of I Corinthians 13 germinating and growing in Val Jean. Along the way he must resist temptations to use his superior physical strength and material wealth to exact self-serving personal revenge or self-preserving vigilante justice on his foes. Self-giving love which always places the good of others ahead of his own interests is what Val Jean learns during every test, be it wrongful accusation by the law (Javert), exploitation by the lawless (the Thénardiers). In both cases Val Jean resists, and thus allows room for God’s justice and grace to provide ‘a more excellent way’.
For those wanting to participate in the I Cor. 13 sojourn of Lent (perhaps for the first time) as a way of preparing for the joy of Easter, Les Misérables and Jean Val Jean offer an inspiring and insightful starting point.