|image by Jan Richardson, used with permission|
When I told Owen about Ash Wednesday, and making a cross on our forehead, he said, “But I already have a cross on my forehead.”
He was speaking of his baptism. That he is marked as Christ’s own and claimed by God forever. But his baptism was a baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Christ, that his very being is now taken up into the life of Christ – the death of Christ, the redemption of Christ.
And every experience he has in this life of death, each loss and pain he suffers and inflicts on others, each time something is taken from his being, each brokenness, each injustice – these things are all taken into Christ who bears them all on the cross.
So, I told him, “This time the cross we make on our forehead is one we can see. It is marked in ashes. It represents death – Jesus’ death, but our own too. Because we are going into Lent, where we talk about how death has a hold on life, and how we participate in death, and how we all really need God’s life to destroy death.”
He looked at me and touched his forehead and said, ‘Will you think of Grandma Root when you make your cross on your head?”
“Yes, I will think of her," I answered, "because she is gone from us and death has separated her from us, and I will think of all the other ways that death separates us from each other. The ways death hurts us in life. Because when we spend some time remembering this, we know that even though death makes a mark on us, we belong to God and that can never change. And we will be ready to talk about how God destroys death and brings life.”
We go into these next weeks, these 40 days of Lent following Jesus’ journey to the cross, and it helps us remember why.
Why do we celebrate the resurrection anyway?
Why does it matter that we have a God who died for us?
Why do we believe there is any hope in the story of Christ, in God’s story that we are part of?
And we cannot know the hope, taste the promise, unless we are willing to really face the despair, unless we are willing to spend some time in the shadow side of life:
the unanswered prayers,
the guilt over relationships shattered
and dreams traded away
and promises broken
and wounds gouged deep into our souls
and inflicted on others by our own words or actions.
Last week after Grandma Root’s funeral, Owen sat in the car holding his popped balloon that he had been playing with the whole day. He finally sighed a big sigh and said, “Mommy, why are bad things happening? Why does everything die? Did God do a bad job making the world?”
These are Lent questions.
And too often we rush to answers instead of sitting in the questions.
Lent gives us a chance to simmer in the questions.
Why do bad things happen?
Why does everything have to die?
Why did Jesus die?
Why is the cross "good news"?
We can’t know it to be good news until we spend some time in the bad, until we let ourselves stop faking or fearing, stop defending God and ourselves, stop ignoring our complicity and looking past the shame in our lives.
Lent is an invitation to honesty.
It is a chance to clear away some of the noise- as cheerful or friendly or positive as the noise might be- to get rid of the distractions that protect us from having to face the doubts or the anger, the deep sadness or the piercing regrets. It is an invitation to enter those things, as fearful as it sounds, to sit with those things and expect that God will encounter us.
Lent is a time when we acknowledge sin and evil, and our participation in sin and evil, and recognize that we don’t deserve forgiveness but we stand here in need of it anyway,
It is a time when say we have a whole lot of questions and concerns about how the world is run and how life is going, and we are not going to hide them or explain them away; we’re going to swallow our fear and say them outloud, even if they seem too big to fix,
Lent is when we say from dust I came and to dust I will return, ashes to ashes, and we stare death in the face, and admit that we are unable to save ourselves or the world around us, and that we need a savior.
In Lent we stand with our flimsy faith drawn on our foreheads in ashes, of all things, and say as crazy a story as this is, as hard as it is to see hope sometimes,
I am going to risk it,
even with my doubt and my unfaithfulness and my hypocrisy and my self-righteousness, I stand here in the possibility that there might be more going on than I can see, and that redemption may be more real than I can imagine.
So we surrender ourselves to the story, our story, God’s story - that moves now through life’s horror and illusion and brings the Creator ultimately to death at the hands of his own creation and most astonishingly, on its behalf,
we submit ourselves to this story because in this story there might be a hope beyond what we can grasp, and we’re willing to risk letting it grasp us.
So we begin Lent today that we might be made ready for Easter.
We begin Lent today that our eyes might be opened and our pain might rise to the surface, that our guilt might become obvious to us, that the world’s utter need might stand starkly before us – because there is a promise at the end of this journey,
and we can’t hear the promise in all its cosmic, world-changing power with all the religion and politics and business as usual in our ears,
and we can’t see the promise’s searing brilliance past all the self-importance and busyness, and personal agendas clouding our vision,
and we wont be able to really let the hope of our salvation wash over us, fill us, cleanse us and sustain us if our backs are turned because we’re too occupied being strong, or good, or right.
Lent prepares us for the good news of Easter.
Bring your questions. Bring your fears. Bring your failures.
Lent is an invitation.
May we accept it.