On Wednesday, Christians around the world will once again enter into the season of Lent, a time of reflection on the sinful nature of humanity, and on its need for redemption. With the imposition of ashes on their foreheads, churchgoers will be reminded that they are but ashes, and to ashes they will return. They will look heavenward to the One who has sacrificed Himself to save them from death and the grave.
Just in time for the next liturgical season, the Washington Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), with an assist from the National Council of Churches, is offering a “2010 Lenten Journey on Climate Justice.” The weekly devotional series will focus on the effects of climate change on health, economics, development, migration, and food security, with a special focus on climate justice for Holy Week. The series is intended as a supplement to last year’s "Creation Waits with Eager Longing" worship resources.
To be fair, Christians are called to be good stewards of God’s creation. However, using the penitential season of Lent to promote human efforts in curbing climate change is at best misguided, and at worst a fundamental misrepresentation of the nature of redemption.
The Ash Wednesday worship resource from 2009 is an example of the ELCA’s new focus. Proclaiming scientists (presumably only those with the most dire of predictions) as “eco-prophets,” the authors urge worshippers to respond “with actions of justice and compassion.” (Since biblical prophets proclaimed God’s sovereignty and pointed to the ultimate arrival of a Messiah, one has to wonder exactly what faith these “eco-prophets” are proclaiming.)
The authors of the Lenten materials tie the proposed environmental activism to the ELCA slogan, “God’s Work, Our Hands.” Although there is a need for Christians to serve others through God-given callings, the purpose of Lent is not to examine what can or must be done. Quite the opposite—it is a call to reflect on what God has done for us that we couldn’t do on our own. It is not a matter of “our hands,” but His pierced hands and feet.