You do realize, don’t you, that lent is just around the corner? Do you think it’s appropriate to calmly sit there, reading the Internet and eating chocolate? Don’t you feel anxious and appalled? What kind of person are you!
I’m just kidding. But for real, Lent is just around the corner. And that’s wonderful because it’s my favorite season of the year. I love it more than Christmas, more than Easter, and certainly more than ordinary time. It is exactly the right kind of space for me to be the person I really am. Which is surely the point. Here are ten reasons to be happy about lent.
In the last ten years, for me, the months before lent have always turned out to be awful (see always true post about homeschooling in February) so that by the time Lent arrives I’m basically already feeling terrible about myself, and have nearly already hit bottom so that I just touch my toe down and start crawling back up.
A couple of years ago January and February were So Bad that I instituted, as my spiritual discipline, Lenten Flowers. I even started a board on Pinterest. Every week I bought myself flowers and photographed them so that I could always live in their glory.
What, you say! Lent isn’t about glory! Yes it is! The most glorious thing in life is to find yourself in a pit, a pit that you dug for yourself through your own sin and stupidity, with no way to get out however hard you try, and then to look up and see that God, who didn’t have to, nevertheless had mercy and came and died so that you there in your pit could be rescued, set up right, free to live on into eternity. For the person who is overburdened by sin and sadness, this is the best season, the most glorious time in the church year.
But I don’t feel bad about my sin! you say. Well, that’s a great pity. You can’t revel in the wonder of the cross if you haven’t bothered to notice the mire of the pit. You can overcome this problem by relishing the words in the confession prayer, “The burden of them is intolerable.” If you happen to think as you say these words, as I some times do, ‘No it’s Not, I’m tolerating it just fine,’ you can then pause and consider what you’re actually saying, what sin actually does, and what hope you actually have. Then, over time, you begin to surely feel how intolerable your sins are and how remarkable it is to be rid of them.
Lent is a microcosm of the Christian life. It is the 40 years in the wilderness, the 40 days in the ark, the 40 days of temptation. It is all about facing down the reality that in life it very often it feels like there is no food and no water and that I loath this worthless food–that no matter what God provides to the Christian, there is always an aching after something more, a dissatisfaction, a restlessness. It’s not just because of all the sin, it’s because once you’ve seen the cross, it’s hard to stick it out for the whole distance, you want to just jump to the end and be happy.
This wanting to jump straight past the suffering to the end is a big problem in the west right now. We have no patience any more, no ability to sit and think, no willingness to suffer. Lent only makes sense if you settle down and purpose to endure for a while, to be unhappy without despair, to be hungry without starving, to be so humble that God can yet lift up your head.
Everything about lent, even your own attempt at some kind of sacrifice or discipline, points to the cross. Say you decide to give up something, like chocolate. There you are, day after day, reminded of how much you love chocolate, how much you wish you could just have a bite. Instead of thinking less about chocolate, you find that it overcomes your thoughts. You think about it all the time. Perhaps you even fail and one time eat chocolate. There you are, a miserable failure. At which moment, Rejoice! Of course you are! Did you think that just avoiding chocolate would somehow make you a winner in lent? No matter What you do in this life, what kind of temptation you try to avoid, what kind of goodness you try to embody, you can’t do it. At the end of the day you won’t have anything left of your efforts to be good and just and merciful and right. And that is Why, at the end of 40 days, we have Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter. It was so bad that Jesus came and died instead of you.
Lent is also completely charming because the Christian can, for “religious reasons” take a break from the world for a bit. Are you exhausted by politics? By the Internet? By Facebook and Twitter? By the shouting that you have to respond to each fresh hideousness that is now the substance of our common political reality? Then put it away for a while and remember the one who can handle it all and is not surprised by anything. Let him worry about the refugee crisis and the Russian thing and all the poverty and all the trouble. Unplug (except for this blog, cough) and let Jesus be the thing you think about for a while.
An inescapable joy creeps in as you go on in lent. In the darkness of the wilderness, in the dust and the details of life, you begin to realize that there is an endpoint, that this too shall pass, that the only constant unchanging reality of the cosmos is God himself. The days build together towards the triumphal entry and then there you are, with a whole week to gaze upon the wonder of the cross, the power of God to overcome the totality of our evil and suffering. You have to be stone cold not to be moved to wonder when beholding the cold, toppled stone on Holy Saturday.
Lent is for sinners. And you are a sinner. So this season is specially made for you. It’s the perfect gift designed just for you, to draw you closer towards a perfect High Priest, one who sympathizes with you in your weakness, in your hunger, in your loss, in your anxiety. He ripped open the curtain, the veil that separates you from the Glory and Holiness of God. You can go up close and speak to him, can sit and rest while all around you scramble and strive. It’s the best thing! And you have a whole week to get ready!