As I helped officiate the Ash Wednesday worship service this year at the Highlands Congregational Church, it occurred to me how counter-cultural Ash Wednesday really is. Some might call it archaic and outmoded; something that has seen its time. In fact, that’s true of the season of Lent in general. Here’s why:
Socially and personally, we want to look our best. Businesses portray themselves through marketing as the very best in their field. Individually, each morning, we “get ready” for the day by making sure we are well dressed, hair combed, and prepared.
Antithetically, Lent is a season that begins by intentionally blemishing yourself with ashes and then invites you to forty days of fasting and repentance.
You can see why people aren’t lining up to take part!
Lent goes against everything we are taught and every habit we have: Downplay your faults, highlight your successes, keep your focus on outward success, an interior life is irrelevant because it produces nothing, strategize to maximize your own personal security in life.
These ways of approaching life are not new and the season of Lent has been with us from ancient times as a counterbalance. Lent says, essentially, enough of that! For at least this short season of the year, let’s put our emphasis elsewhere. Let’s look at the things we’d rather not look at.
Why? Because if we don’t, if those less-than-beautiful things are forever ignored, they will end up owning us.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to show the world that we are well-put-together. It is just that it is only part of the picture of who we are and it is important to admit that. Because, ultimately, we aren’t well-put-together. We are flawed and imperfect. That’s okay, of course—it is part and parcel of being human. But that doesn’t mean that our imperfections, our sins, should be denied (which is the cultural norm).
The truth is, when we delve into the hurtful and hurting parts of ourselves we become more complete. We find ways to learn from mistakes and make amends for the pain we have caused. We also find healing for the wounds that we silently carry day after day.
The season of Lent is based on Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. There he fasted and was tempted to personal and worldly success by none other than Satan. He refused these temptations by quoting scripture and thereafter began his public ministry.
Lent is our journey to Easter. We journey with Jesus into the wilderness of our lives. We journey with Jesus all the way to the crucifixion and find that it mirrors our own lives and our world. Only when we embark on this journey can we feel the full power the resurrection for our daily living and for social reform.
Probably the greatest temptation we face at this time of year is to ignore Lent altogether. It sure would be easier. No one wants to shine a light around the dark places of their hearts and lives or linger too long with the injustices of our world. It is easier to just go about our daily routines.
Like so many things, we get out of Lent what we put into it. Consequently:
- I hope you will take advantage of this time to fast from the mask of perfection you wear for others and for yourself.
- I hope you will try as best you can to embrace the shadow side of yourself; to listen to what it has to say to you knowing that Christ walks beside you with a balm of healing.
- I hope you will also bravely look at our world this Lent and name the sins you see.
- I hope you will then join your voice to those of many others who call for social repentance.
Lent is a difficult gift. A challenging gift. But it is a gift. May you take the time to open that gift and explore what it has to offer.
See you in church,