Lent word written in ash, dust as fast and abstinence period concept.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me. - Galatians 2:20
As I sit here typing, writing of repentance and penance is totally hypocritical. My head may explode after almost an hour on the phone with the insurance company. The only thing worse than dealing with health insurance companies is not having any. I am pretty sure repentance is out of reach just yet…
But then, Lent exists precisely because we are like we are, because I am like I am. We know the story: the Resurrection is coming! We’ll all gladly sing, “Made like Him, like Him we rise!” Are we being made like Him? More specifically, are you? Sadly, most of us are woefully unprepared to rise with Christ as His brother or sister. We have tempers, judgments, grudges, greed, or selfishness, and the list goes. Is there some finite limit on the human capacity for sin? To date, I have not discovered it. When Paul wrote to Galatia, he revealed a perspective not common in Christians today. From the earliest records of the Church, including this one, Christians believed they truly died to the world when they were baptized into Christ (see Romans 6:4), and they also believed they rose with Him in His Resurrection. I agree with them. This world and this life, though surely a gift from God, will give way to eternal life in the Kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for those who have been crucified with Christ.
Lent is a season that fluctuated some over the centuries, and the present form of Lent in the Christian Church is fairly recent, as church history goes. In the earliest centuries of Christianity, Lent was the time set aside for catechumens as they prepared to be baptized on Easter Sunday morning. Becoming a Christian and joining the Church was much more involved back then. The Early Church grew in an environment that was, at best, indifferent to Christian faith and belief. Greco-Roman religion with its plethora of gods was the dominant religion of the day, and it encouraged hedonism, lust, gluttony, riches, and more. Basically, Greco-Roman religion embraced and endorsed most of what Christianity defines as sin. When we think about it, Greco-Roman religious life is remarkably similar to the humanist society in which we find ourselves today. Although during the worst times the Early Church was persecuted and Christians were martyred, thus far, Christians today are not suffering too greatly today, beyond being the object of derision by some.
Catechumens prepared for Baptism over a period of time, typically forty days, echoing Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Jesus faced temptations, and the whole practice of giving up something for Lent comes from those things which tempt us to disobedience or to abandonment of the Gospel. Are these the measure by which you decide what to give up for Lent? How invested are we in dying to self, to being crucified with Christ, and in allowing Christ to live in us – not to advise us or make suggestions, not to serve as our constant champion and friendly coach, but to live in us, live through us, and to make Himself known by who we are? That is a much higher goal for which to reach, or perhaps, it is a much humbler goal toward which we bow.
The most common Ash Wednesday Scripture is from Matthew 6, when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. He instructed the listeners to give to the needy, pray, and fast. Why that particular passage to start the Lenten season, and why those three things? Each one is the starting place for the growth of Christian virtue in us, the nails of our own crucifixion with Christ, if you will.
Giving to the needy requires us to value human beings over possessions, correcting our relationship to fellow human beings, a bit like the horizontal bar on the Cross. Our society is incredibly materialistic, and Christians cannot reflect Jesus Christ unless people matter more than things, and we give more to those in need and take less for ourselves. Prayer, especially the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught, rightly orders our relationship with our Father, bringing to mind the upright bar on the Cross. We are to be like little children, wholly dependent upon Him, seeking His will, His provision, His forgiveness, and His salvation from temptation and evil. Finally, fasting serves to break deep attachment to worldly satisfaction so we may experience divine satisfaction and joy, the image that comes to mind is dying to self and rising with Christ. There are many ways in which to fast, but in whatever form you choose, truly fasting is hard to do. Fasting is giving up something you love, a created thing that brings only temporal satiation, and pleading in prayer and supplication that you will receive the divine love, grace, and joy that truly satisfy.
Christianity is costly. The Son of God paid the price of crucifixion for us. To expect following in His footsteps will be comfortable is naïve in the extreme. God wants the whole of us – heart, mind, soul, and strength. Lent is when we decide what Christian faith and life are worth to us. Do we have greater concern for our belongings than we do for other people? Do we come to our Father like little children, in need of Christ daily just to survive, give forgiveness to those who have wronged us because we hope and pray God will forgive us? Do we store up spiritual riches, needing more of God every day and less of the gluttony, greed, and lust of our environment?
These are the questions of Lent. Hard questions… If you are ever as I am, explosively angry over necessary inconveniences, then you probably need the season of Lent as badly as I. I would hazard to guess we all need Lent, to remember what we were without Christ and who we are through Him. Dying to self is hard, but worth every pain. For Resurrection awaits us after our crucifixion.
I pray you dare to be crucified with Christ. There is no blood or humiliation or pain for you, just the sacrifice of yourself that Christ might live in you.
In Christ –