Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and our church held a service, with ashes and everything. It was the first time I had ever participated in such a service, having been raised in a tradition that pretty much ignored everything before Easter. The service was beautiful, and challenging. As I think about the season of Lent, a few things come to mind.
Lent is a way of remembering the journey of Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. It was for our sin that he died. It is always good to keep that in mind. Lent is also a season of sacrifice, of giving something up. That sacrifice can be anything from food to television, from smoking to the internet (if you've given up the internet, it'll be a while before you read this). The problem with giving things up is that it can become an exercise in self-righteousness and self-justification.
Lent is a time of remembering that we came from dust and will return to dust. In other words, we're going to die. As someone who believes that Jesus has redeemed our bodies along with our souls, this remembering comes with the knowledge that we will be resurrected, with real bodies as well as souls. This union of body and soul comes in when we give up something physical in order to focus on the spiritual. For instance, if we give up food, we can remember that Jesus is our source of life. Unfortunately, this too can become an exercise in legalism.
I believe Lent can best be observed as a time of repentance. Not as an exercise in self hatred but as an acceptance of the fact that, on our own, we can not love God or others as we ought. We can't live this life on our own. In Luke 9, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross. On his way, he calls others to follow him. They make various excuses, and Jesus tells them that they have to give up everything in order to follow him. Jesus calls us to follow him. Follow him to the cross, the place of death. He calls us to come and die.
The good news is that when we die, we find that it is then that we truly live. We live in Christ and he
lives in us. When we give it all up, we realize true freedom. As Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." When we give it all up we have nothing to lose because we have everything that we cannot lose. As we follow Jesus to the cross, we know that we have also been raised with him.
This Lent season, we remember. We give up, not because we need to "do," but because Jesus has already "done."
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