Temptation. Fear. Suffering. Forgiveness. Poverty. Sorrow.
These themes repeat and resonate throughout the Lenten readings appointed for worship. Why, oh why, can’t we just cut to the chase and get to the good news of Resurrection? Can’t we just “do” Easter? Can’t we just be happy?
Truth of the matter is that life is hard. We are all afraid – of something or someone, at some time or another. We are all in mourning – for that which has been lost, or never was. We are all tempted – by an incredible array of voices whispering empty promises. We find ourselves ashamed and guilt-ridden, living in fear that we shall be found out any minute now. We all experience poverty in some form or another: of material resources, sometimes, but also poverty of imagination, or poverty of courage, or impoverished relationships…
The long wilderness season of Lent affords us time to tiptoe to the edge of the abyss of all that we lack, fear, or regret. The forty days of Lent provide time-enough (if we take it) to open our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to the cleansing Spirit of God. One of the great ironies of the human condition is that we create what we fear. The actions we take to avoid certain outcomes actually bring about the very thing we would avoid. We stuff our skeletons into closets, slam the door, turn the key in the lock – only to turn around and see those shut-away skeletons grinning at us from the living room.
When we enter into a disciplined and holy Lent, there is always the possibility that we will get to the heart of what we fear – and find it nothing but vapor. By bravely examining our bleak impoverishment, we come to know true wealth. In the act of contrition – acknowledging all that we’ve done to shame ourselves or others, to wound and break the beauty of creation – we come to realize that we are, in fact, blessed by divine love and forgiveness. When we say to the tempter, “I see you”, we just might know ourselves freed from that temptation.
The only way to enter into genuine resurrection joy and delight is through the valley of the shadow of death, through our own weeping and lamentation. If you are inclined to doubt this, consider all the Easter stories: the ones who saw Resurrected Glory were those who dared to go to the place of sorrow and death: the tomb. Only by going to the tomb, will we find it empty.
When we see clearly our own brokenness, we see all the more clearly God’s great amazing abundant love and forgiveness – God who loves us not because we are good, adequate, or marvelous, but because God is God: loving, creating, forgiving, living, healing, and making whole.