The season of Lent is upon us! We are caught in the middle of the time when we are initiated into death (Ash Wednesday) and when we celebrate the New Life of Jesus Christ through Resurrection Sunday (Easter). I did not grow up observing Lent. I thought it was something that only my Catholic friends did, and even then, I didn’t have any clue what it was that they did (except not eating meat). My first real exposure to Lent was when I went to a United Methodist college and we had an Ash Wednesday service in Chapel one year. I received the smudge of ashes on my forehead, feeling self-conscious for the next hour about what the ashes said about me. They boldly proclaimed my mortality—ashes to ashes, dust to dust. They said I was a “religious” person. They sent a message to others about who I was. And they made me uncomfortable! Sure, I was a Christian—others on campus who knew me already knew that about me. But somehow the ashes signified my brokenness in a way that I’d never “broadcast” before.
Lent is the time of year when we embrace the fact that we are a finite and broken people. In a sense, we mourn our humanity. We remember that one day we will die. In fact, as the preacher on Ash Wednesday said this year, “Without Christ, we are dead.” It sounds blunt, but it is the truth. When we live a life without Christ, we actually are dead already. Dead to eternal life. Dead because of our sin. We are walking dead. The Lenten season reminds us of our death. That’s not very encouraging! We like to put a positive spin on things. Naturally, we like to push our thoughts toward Easter, that resurrection morning when death was defeated. And yet, it’s important to dwell in the morbid thoughts of our broken humanity for this season of the year.
Christian tradition teaches us to deny ourselves of something during the Lenten season. Some choose chocolate, others Facebook, or something else. This year I chose morning TV. I’m not ashamed to admit it…my day starts better when I have Good Morning America to accompany me in my morning ritual! I sometimes switch to The Today Show when GMA isn’t so hot, but I do enjoy catching some news along with the new spring fashions. This year, I decided that I would give up morning television as a way of denying myself and focusing on Christ. All was well until that chapel a week after Ash Wednesday. It was announced in chapel that the Discipleship team would be giving up pop and sending the money to Blood: Water Mission to dig a well in Africa. This was news to me, but I was all for it! I had just recently heard about this project and their plan to build wells for clean water in Africa. I was happy to donate money, but not too keen on giving up pop. During this first week, I sort of played around with this idea. Okay…so I won’t buy any new pop, but I’ll drink what I have on hand (fortunately for me, I had purchased 2-24 packs. Hey—they were on sale!) just a week before Lent. Or, I won’t buy any pop at a restaurant, but if I’m not paying for it and it’s included in the price, it’s okay. I’ll still donate money. For goodness sake, I’m giving up morning TV for Lent! I didn’t decide on the pop thing—it was decided for me and I’ll donate the money.
And then, this weekend…the still, small voice of God finally broke through my litany of excuses.
“Ashlee…is this really about not drinking pop, or is this about your
stubborn humanity? Do you want to do things your way, or are you willing
to yield to me? Have you taken seriously what it means to ‘take up your
cross and follow me’?”
Well…when you put it that way, Lord! My broken excuses revealed for all to see about my humanity, much more obviously than the smudge of ashes on my forehead ever did. It’s easy for me (as for all of us) to justify our actions, pay off our “guilt,” or plug our ears to the still, small voice of our Savior. And so, we can’t skip ahead to Easter. We need Lent. A time when we willingly admit our brokenness, for all to see! We remind ourselves that without Christ, we are dead. We deny our “wants” in order to join in the sufferings of Christ, relying on his strength. I’m still not watching morning TV until after Easter, but for me, Lent has become about denying myself in another way. I’m letting the decision of another person (the Kingdom Committee of the Discipleship team) help break me of my stubbornness. I’m giving of my financial resources and I’m hopeful for the recipients of the well that we will contribute to, but that’s not the goal. (Don’t get me wrong—it’s a wonderful, wonderful byproduct of our obedience!). The goal is that we would become people that are fully submitted to Christ, every day of the year, able to respond to the countless ways that we are employed by Christ to do the work that he has called us to do. So…lament! Lament and remember your humanity. Remember that without Christ, you are dead. And on that day when we celebrate the new life that we have in Christ, we will join with Christ and be raised from the dead. And this year, the recipients of the new well in Africa can celebrate with us, too.