In many Eastern Christian churches, yesterday was the Sunday of Zaccheus and the beginning of Pre-Lent. Yes, indeed, while most of us are still trying to recover from Christmas, Pre-Lent has already begun. It is the season that precedes Lent, also known as the Great Fast. The Church Fathers believed that now is the time to begin to “prepare to prepare” for Easter.
Why? Isn’t that a little redundant? In reflecting on Lent, the Eastern priest Father Alexander Schmemann points out that we humans take a long time to make any serious changes, and the Church takes this into account. A process of preparation is actually very helpful and healthy. It allows us to ease into the major change in mindset and lifestyle that Lent requires of us.
I am reminded of Judith Beck (Aaron Beck’s daughter), who wrote a book called The Beck Diet Solution. In her book, she attempts to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to assist in the weight loss process. Beginning her program means that the reader doesn’t even begin dieting for the first two weeks (1/3 of the total program), because her research has demonstrated that preparation is the greatest indicator of a person’s success in their diet.
Judith begins her book by having the client write down a clear statement about their desire for the diet, what the client is hoping to get out of the diet, how their life will change as a result of dieting, etc. The Church does the same thing in this Sunday of Zaccheus in calling us to meditate on our desire.
Recall the story of Zaccheus–and my sympathies if this brings up for you that catchy-yet-annoying tune we all learned in Sunday school. Yes, Zaccheus was a “wee little man”, but he was also a man of great desire. Before Christ came to town, Zaccheus knew something wasn’t quite right; he knew he was not happy or felt complete. Why else would a man of such significance within the town, someone who was hated by most of the people on that roadside, climb a sycamore tree like a child to simply see this preacher coming to town? Zaccheus is the hero of the story because he climbed the tree, he took the risk, he knew something about his life was not quite working, so he went searching for healing.
What is our desire for Easter? What is our desire for Christ? What is our desire for the fast?
Do I see myself as someone who would be willing to climb the tree, and do the work, if it meant having Christ more in my life?
It would be too simple to look at the story of Zaccheus and think that we are attempting to only learn about our desire for God in this time of preparation. Rather, we cannot forget about God’s desire for us. Christ came to the base of the sycamore tree in order to search out Zaccheus. Christ desires to go to his house for dinner. He desired to seek a relationship with him. How receptive are we to Christ’s desire for us?
If you are anything like me, you may find you have a long way to go in your journey to Easter. That journey is not made by simply sitting by and waiting for the days to tick away, but rather through the process of focusing on preparing ourselves for the journey of Lent.
Beginning here, this week, what might be the best way to “prepare to prepare” for Easter? The story of Zaccheus inspires us to meditate on our desires. We should ask ourselves what are the desires that we have, and are they principally for the Lord and for Easter, or are they for other idols? Do I have more of a desire for meat on Fridays than I have for Easter? Do I long more for other things in my life than I long for an experience of God? Maybe now is a time to prepare a list of those things so that you know from what to fast, for what to pray, and how to give alms when Lent actually begins.
Glory to Jesus Chirst
-Dcn Basil Ryan Balke
This article is not intended to be or to replace professional counseling or medical advice.
Image credit: Sycamore tree found on Pixabay from user MabelAmber (public domain).