“Lent is such a downer, so depressing, so heavy. I’m glad when it’s over and really could just do without it, and might skip the season and return just after the cross business is over and we have the joy of Easter.”
Yes, I’ve heard those words. Heck, maybe you’re the one who said them. If so, I have something for you to consider.
Lent is not for sissies and if you’re avoiding it you may be one. And Ash Wednesday is Lent concentrate, like drinking the syrup before adding water. So let’s start with the concentrate.
Ash Wednesday doesn’t take any prisoners. By the time the ashes are smeared on your forehead in the sign of the cross you’ve been reminded that life gets broken, many times as a result of our own self-centered will, and that life is short, fleeting. We’re mortal and we don’t keep the faith. But along with this reality therapy comes the antidote as well; we find our hope for healing, restoration and eternity in the life of God shown in Christ. But you’ve got to recognize the ashes to get there.
Some people are too self-conscious to wear the ashes. Others think it’s just creepy. But at the root is our fear of admitting what’s before us and our response of avoidance.
Lent is a story about going the distance for God, doing what it takes, and following Jesus all the way to the cross. It’s also about taking up what God gives, making space for God to move and walking the wilderness ways that life requires. So you hear a lot of prayers for confession, seeking God’s forgiveness. We rehearse some of the suffering that necessarily accompanies the desert places. And of all things Lent asks us to turn about and face in the right direction, leaving some things behind in order to embrace the rich path of God. That path, however, is often strewn with broken glass.
Here’s what I think: People flee suffering. They flee their own lives. They flee what they have to do. They flee the unpleasant. We are all fleeing all the time. And Lent doesn’t let you do that. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem and doesn’t turn back. Our denial, however, is so thick, so pervasive, that it takes a proverbial cold shower to awaken us.
It seems like mainline Protestant worship is so focused on exhilaration that there is no room for lament. Our worship is so often an exercise in denial. Sure, praise and sweeping song lift us up and out of the doldrums. But I know who’s sitting in those pews. It’s not all light and joy. People are hurting, grieving, and struggling. And we surround them with another dance through the tulips with Jesus? I just want to thank you Lord. How does our worship reach out to them?
So, avoid Lent? Too dreary and depressing? I’ll tell you what’s really depressing – people in such denial that they can’t face the very thing that Lent carries. And if you avoid that you’ll never begin to understand what Easter is all about.