The Lenten Season is my favorite liturgical season. Some people think it is strange to like Lent. It seems too somber and penitential to be liked – like a facebook status that shares sad or painful news yet news that has the potential to lead to something good. Is it appropriate to “like” such a status?
Is it appropriate to like Lent? A season where we are reminded of our mortality with a holy smudge. A season of self-reflection on the pervasiveness of our sin and our humanity. Perhaps it is if we see the potential for good. As Sara Parsons says, “perhaps Lent is a season of joy when we look at ourselves, not so we may criticize ourselves more harshly but so we can identify the obstructions that keep us from God.” What prevents us from being fully devoted followers of Jesus? How do we avoid God and why? What is standing in the way of us surrendering fully to the leadership of the Lord? Lent provides a regular rhythm for us to seek out these hindrances and, with God’s grace and strength, cut these hindrances out of our lives to fully fling ourselves into God’s grace and mercy.
I’m going to share a potential spoiler for the movie “Gravity” now. If you haven’t seen it, it is your fault for waiting so long. In the movie, Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, escapes from a fiery space capsule into a sea of water. She attempts to swim to the surface but soon realizes that the weight and bulk of her spacesuit is weighing her down. The only way to live is to throw off that which is burdening her; to cut it out of her life. Once she is free, she is able to surface, breath and live.
Lent forces us to stop and to realize all the bulk that we’ve added to our lives. To stop and be aware that perhaps we are sinking, weighed down by obstructions that are keeping us from being the free people that God longs for us to be. Lent calls us to throw off that which so easily entangles and surface to a new life, a free life. Released to really live as we no longer pretend to be anything other than what we are – flawed human beings. And this very lack of pretending is a relief to sufferers drowning from guilt – like me. It brings joy and that’s why I love Lent.
Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber says [admitting the truth about our mortality] is “like the moment when you stop having to spiritually hold your stomach in.”
There is no better feeling than taking off a belt or pants that have been painfully restraining you all day. So, let’s stop pretending or sucking in our spiritual stomach. Let’s be real. We’re a mess and in need of a Savior. We are mortal but death is not final. The acceptance of this which we pronounce on Ash Wednesday is freeing to us and music to God’s ears. Yes, we’re a mess. But we’re His mess and when we embrace this, the real journey can begin.
Lent is not the time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. It isn’t spiritual Pinterest where we pin a challenge or behavior modification in order to create a more perfect self. It is “the great and saving forty days” set apart for complete and total dedication to the things of God. It is the “tithe of the year” which tells us that all times and seasons belong to the Lord who has created and redeemed the world.
Let’s remember who the hero is at the end of 40 days – not us for having achieved victory over the allure of heavenly sugar or the appealing seduction of social media. The hero is Jesus, the one we pursue instead of these obstacles.
May the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality; may our repentance be the occasion for a reprieve from neurosis and anxiety; and may we journey with patience and joy towards the eternal hope of Christ’s resurrection. Remember that we came from dust and will return to dust. Remember that we came from God and will return to God.