Monday, March 09, 2009

Lent: A Short Introduction

I published this short introduction to the Christian season of Lent in the campus newspaper last week.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

Christians around the world heard these words last week as they began the season we call “Lent.” Keeping the “Christian year” – marking time according to God’s saving work – arises from the conviction that twenty centuries ago, God raised up the executed insurrectionist, Jesus of Nazareth, and enthroned him as the world’s Lord. All of life is oriented to this affirmation: that God loves the world, grieves its brokenness and sin, and has graciously acted to redeem it in and through Jesus the Christ. Marking time in this way is one aspect of that orientation.

The Christian year follows the life of Jesus, and tells the story of the world through that lens. Before Jesus began his public ministry of healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the arrival of God’s Reign, he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. This echoes a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures: the number 40 represents a special time of refining the soul for the service of God.

Now, in the 40 days before Easter, we enter the last days of Jesus’ ministry, when he begin to orient himself and his disciples to his vocation of suffering and death for the sake of Israel and the entire world. The story has taken a dark turn, and we join the Master as he sets his face resolutely toward Jerusalem. This is why a cross, draped in penitential purple, stands above Giddings Lawn. The rhythm of our lives has taken on a cadence of mourning and hope as we walk in “bright sadness,” journeying with Jesus through his suffering and into Easter’s light.

As we consider Lenten disciplines, we ask, “what can I do to set my own face toward Jerusalem?” What are the sinful patterns in my life that need to die, and what does God wish to heal? Lent is not meant for Herculean efforts of spiritual zeal - like boot camp for Jesus - but for a time of greater intentionality. We rededicate ourselves in practical ways to learning more deeply the Way of Life found in Christ. Our goal is not a particular spiritual experience, but to be with the Lord and offer to him our readiness to turn in unexpected directions, to listen to words we would not have anticipated, and answer yes to God in ways we would not have imagined.

The time of Great Lent is upon us. May it be a holy one as we walk into the dark places of ourselves and discover that the Lord Himself leads us into the stillness of our solitary fears, to sit with us, to heal us, and to absorb all of our darkness into his Cross.