Today is Ash Wednesday, the day on which the season of Lent begins. The purpose of Lent is to allow us to sit deeply to death in order that we may rise freely in resurrection. It is a season of soul search, of cleansing, of self-denial, of death-dealing and death preparing. It is a long slow walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
It is not a season of morbidity but of awareness. There are some things in us that need to die - some things that we are allowing to remain on life-support, not realizing that they are dealing death to us. There are some things - habits, attitudes, behaviors - that have been allowed to go unchallenged far too long. Lent reminds us that, while we are declared saints, we sin and are thus in need of a grace-full savior.
Part of our struggle with Lent, and the journey it invites us on, sources in the belief that sin is not that big a deal. In fact, as a word, sin has largely lost its meaning. It has come to mean something naughty or, at worst, something not good for us. It is not all that big a deal - except that God has got something against it and so, even though for the most part it is harmless fun, we can’t do it or we won’t go to heaven.
Lent reminds us that sin is a very big deal, and that it is not God’s problem but ours. Sin is deadly - every time. It is the elephant on the air hose of our soul. It may be appealing in the short run, but in the long run it is a disaster of the first magnitude.
The genius of Lent is the invitation to embrace our own dying in preparation for resurrection with Christ to new life. For example, Lent invites us to fast - to abstain in some meaningful, significant, and concentrated fashion from something we have perhaps allowed to take too high a place in our lives. Fasting shakes us up and reminds us that we are more than body - and reminds our body that it is not in charge!
So, pack your bags - but lightly. This is a seven week hike through some powerfully and darkly beautiful landscape. Keep your wits about you and your eyes wide open. You are not the only one on this journey to the cross.