Ash Wednesday, a
9 March 2011, (LCOH/TUMC)
Ah, Lent. It’s that time of year again. What are some of the words that come to mind when you think of this season?
We do tend to think of guilt, preparation, longing, darkness, deprivation. I don’t know about you, but those are January and February words to me- winter words. But here we are with a Lenten springtime, where we’re already almost to 12 hours of daylight. It’s hard to focus on darkness when we know the sun is coming.
And I think that’s the struggle of Lent for Easter people. Easter people are people who already live in the light of Easter. (That would be us.) It’s hard to think about darkness when we know the Son, that is Jesus, is coming. Since we already know the joy of resurrection, why do we have this slow season, these darker songs, this heaviness?
Lent feels like a burden, no matter how we try to spin it. It plays on our sense of guilt, our uncertainty about grace, our discomfort with joy, our Good Friday fears. We don’t think about roses, posies or dancing, we just know: “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” And so we trudge through Lent as though it were a weight around our ankle.
Yet, what are the words we hear today, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (from Psalm 51) We hear from the prophet Joel, “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” From Jesus, we hear the fearful, but encouraging truth that God sees us, even when we think we’re hidden, even in secret. Last, but certainly not least, Paul writes to the Corinthians and to us, “See, now is the day of salvation!”
Now is the day of salvation. We don’t have to contrive our fear and worry through the season of Lent. Our salvation, our Easter rejoicing, is already at hand.
Yet we have this season. What shall we do with it? How is God calling to us through this tradition, through these weeks?
What if we treat Lent not as a burden, but as a gift? Could these weeks, this slowness and time of reflection be a gift? It’s the one time of year where you won’t get sick of Lenten carols in the grocery store. You won’t be bombarded with Lenten commercials. No one will pity your lack of Lenten plans.
It’s a time when we can even more fully realize that the world cannot offer us what we receive from the hands of the One who made us. In this season, we realize that we have salvation from temptation, from relentless wanting, from our weaknesses and from ourselves. Today is the day of salvation.
So many of us give up or take on minor things. Not everyone, I realize, but many people set aside chocolate, caffeine, television, or Facebook. Some people take up a practice. We are called to set aside the things that come between God and us, that cause us to feel a separation in that relationship. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been so overcome by a Coca Cola that I forgot to Whom I belong.
In considering Lent as a gift from God, for the people of God, we have to take seriously the things that cause us to feel a separation in the relationship between our Creator and us. Is it really sugar? Or is it more likely our relationship with another person? Our fear of change? Our lack of trust in prayer? Our inability to find time to read the Scriptures?
We know that everything we have is a gift from God, our time, our possessions, ourselves. The season of Lent is gift of time to reflect on those gifts we have, on how we are using them, on what we would like change, on what we believe God would like us to change. If we take this gift seriously, it’s probably not our chocolate habits that concern God.
Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of salvation. Lent isn’t inviting us to anticipate the day of salvation. The season of Lent is encouraging us to embrace the reality that our salvation is at hand. Christ has already been crucified, died and risen. And you and I, bits of clay and ash that we are, have already been put to death and brought to new life with him.
We can treat Lent like a burden, something to be endured. Or we can enter more fully into the gift of lengthening days. We can take seriously the things cause us to feel separated from God. We can pray with our whole selves, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We can open this gift from God and say, with fear, trembling and joy, “I am dust and to dust I shall return, but today… today is the day of my salvation.”