Esau McCaulley (Wheaton College / The New York Times) discusses the Christian practice of Lent—a collective wisdom, passed down through generations of Jesus followers, as well as a spiritual rebellion against mainstream American culture. He construes Lent as a season of repentance and grace; he points out the justice practices of Lent; he walks through a Christian understanding of death, and the beautiful practice of stripping the altars on Maundy Thursday; and he’s emphatic about how it’s a guided season of pursuing the grace to find (or perhaps return) to yourself as God has called you to be.
It’s not a popular idea, but secular America is pretty damn religious. Pretty damn liturgical. Pumpkin spice lattes and apple cider donuts are the eucharistic elements of autumn. The militaristic pageantry of the 4th of July. Our children love asking about the next big event. Color coordinated myths drive the year along, shaping us into …. well, I’m not quite sure what this secular American liturgy is shaping us into. But I bet you and I could have had a great conversation about during a Super Bowl party earlier this month—where the eucharistic elements have changed—it’s Buffalo wings and light beer—but it even comes with a sacred gathering of fanatical religious nuts, worshipping the high priest as he barks his coded sermon, and singing along with the high priestesses at halftime, praying all along to the gods of the gridiron to grant victory. When you put it that way, observing Lent—which starts today, Ash Wednesday—seems pretty tame and sensible.
Joining me today on the show is Esau McCaulley—for a discussion of Lent. Esau is associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton college and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.
He’s author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, which won Christianity Today’s book of the year award in 2020, as well as a new book, Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal, which is part of a series entitled “The Fullness of Time”—which features other authors discussing different seasons of the Christian liturgical year and how it contributes to a Christian understanding of flourishing.
During our conversation, Esau McCaulley and I discuss the Christian practice of Lent—he speaks about it as both a collective wisdom, passed down through generations of Jesus followers, as well as a spiritual rebellion against mainstream American culture. He construes Lent as a season of repentance and grace; he points out the justice practices of Lent; he walks through a Christian understanding of death, and the beautiful practice of stripping the altars on Maundy Thursday; and he’s emphatic about how it’s a guided season of finding the grace to find (or perhaps return) to yourself as God has called you to be.
This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.
- Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal
- Commodifying our rebellion—the agency on offer is a thin, weakened agency.
- Repentance, grace, and finding (or returning to) yourself
- Examination of conscience
- The Great Litany: “For our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty. Except our repentance, Lord.”
- The beauty of Christianity
- “Liturgical spirituality is not safe. God can jump out and get you at any moment in the service.”
- “The great thing about the, the, the season of Blend in the liturgical calendar more broadly is it gives you a thousand different entry points into transformation.”
- Lent is bookended by death. Black death, Coronavirus death, War death.
- Jesus defeated death as our great enemy.
- “Everybody that I know and I care about are gonna die. Everybody.”
- “I, as a Christian, believe that because we're going to die. our lives are of infinite value and the decisions that we make and the kinds of people we become are the only testimony that we have and that I have chosen to, to, in light of my impending death, put my faith in the one who overcame death.”
- Two realities: We’re going to die and Jesus defeated death.
- Stripping of the Altars on Maundy Thursday.
- Silent processional in black; Good Friday celebrates no eucharist.
- “I'm, like, the one Pauline scholar who doesn't like to argue about justification all of the time.”
- Good Friday’s closing prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion cross and death between your judgment and our souls.”
- “You end Lent with: Something has to come between God’s judgement and our souls. And that thing is Jesus.”
- “Lent is God loving you enough to tell you the truth about yourself, but not condemning you for it, but actually saying that you can be better than that.”
About Esau McCaulley
Esau McCaulley, PhD is an associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL and theologian in residence at Progressive Baptist Church, a historically black congregation in Chicago. His first book entitled Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance was published by T & T Clark in 2019. His second book Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope was published by IVP academic in 2020. It won numerous awards including Christianity Today’s book of the year. His most recent work was a children’s book entitled Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit for IVP kids. His latest book is *Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal.* He is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. His writings have also appeared in places such as The Atlantic, Washington Post, and Christianity Today. He is married to Mandy, a pediatrician and navy reservist. Together, they have four wonderful children. Check out his website at https://esaumccaulley.com/.
- This podcast featured Esau McCaulley
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Macie Bridge, Luke Stringer, and Kaylen Yun.
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
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