For me, Lent is a sigh of relief.
One would think with the freedom we have in Christ to attend to the means of grace each Lord’s day, I wouldn’t need permission to be reflective, private, and worshipful.
But I do.
Deep within my heart I find the same, familiar trappings beginning to come together. A distancing. A cooling. A familiarity. Something all too mechanical about the whole process of being “Christian.”
I knew something was happening years ago when Christmas came, and went, and nothing felt any different about it. When I was a child, my parents had to make a “countdown to Christmas” calendar so that I could at least have a visual countdown of the number of days remaining until that glorious morning arrived.
In church work, my public rhythm is dictated by the stated gatherings that are most widely celebrated amongst protestants. Preparation for Christmas (logistical, that is) begins in August. Preparation for Easter began January 1. If I am not careful, logistical preparation supplants the private tilling of my own heart to receive before I give.
I need preparation. It is the only way that I can hope to minister out of the wellspring of the whole self, versus the divided self. In order for there to be vitality in my public leadership, there must also be quiet submission and space to listen in my private worship.
Lent is an opportunity for examination. It is permission granted to explore the depths of the parody which I have created. Parody is an imitation or a version of something that falls far short of the real thing; a travesty… and this, so often, is where I find myself living. I find myself living in the ease and comfort of imitation. The travesty of this is that the imitation itself beguiles as a suitable substitute for the real thing.
But I can’t see how far short the parody falls, because I have forgotten. Forgotten the original goodness which I was intended for. Forgotten the original wonder I was made for. Forgotten the noble identity that was forged in me when I was made in the image of my creator God, and declared to be very good.
Instead, I take the parody and settle for “good enough.”
As a friend and colleague once said, “Lent seeks to frustrate the false self.” It is an exercise in pulling back the veil of the ghetto my heart has created, and expose it for all of the rank counterfeit that it is; how much it falls short of the real thing. That it is a travesty.
But Lent doesn’t leave me there. Along the journey there are reality checks. Lent was a 40 day fast, with breaks on Sunday to remind us that we are not living in a time absent the cross; the dead tree and empty tomb assures us that there is a lifeline to self-examination. The way of the lenten path is the way of the cross, an opportunity to be formed by the tree of death that gave way to the tree of life.
Lent declares amnesty. A time to come clean. A time to expose all of the ways which I have given the false self priority instead of the redeemed self. A time to recover the full weight of my fallen humanity, so that I may receive with a glad and full heart the good news of the gospel. We are prone to deny the bad news and minimize the good news.
The feast of Eastertide awaits. The joyful journey of Lent prepares the palate to savor the sweetness of resurrection power afresh and anew. Join me, won’t you?