Blessed to be a Blessing
In many Eastern traditions, offerings of food and flowers are a common practice during formal worship services, at temples and local religious sites, and as gifts to traveling monks. When I walk past a holy site and see an offering of fruit or flowers, I am drawn to these gifts—blessings left behind by pilgrims who have gone before me. While this practice was also common in ancient Israel, it is reflected in different ways in our modern traditions. Bringing communion elements forward, putting flowers on the altar, bringing mission offerings like blankets or food to the chancel, or filling up those little UNICEF boxes for the Sunday School children each fall remind us to leave a blessing behind. Even as Joel warns the Israelites of God’s impending wrath, even as he calls them to return to God with repentance and remorse, he also reminds us that God is merciful. (Read the whole prophecy in Joel 2.) God blesses us even when we feel cursed. God leaves blessings behind all the time, if only we take a moment to notice. The flower that blooms through an ice-covered garden, the sun that breaks through a cloudy day, the friend who sends a condolence card, or the prayer that comes to our mind when we couldn’t find the words are all blessings to strengthen us along the way. In this challenging season, such blessings are desperately needed. In this Lenten season, remembering these blessings can help us to find strength for the journey, even a journey to the cross. In this Lenten season, remembering to be a blessing can strengthen others for the journey, even those who have their own crosses to bear. Perhaps we are called to help them carry their cross, or perhaps we are the ones who need another to bless us and help us carry the crosses we bear. God doesn’t want to curse us or burden us; God wants to bless us and lighten the load. Likewise, God doesn’t want our sackcloth and ashes. God wants our hearts and our love, that we might receive God’s blessings so fully that it becomes easy for us to bless others on this journey—not just through Lent, but through life.