“The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross.”
– Edna Hong, ‘A Look Inside’ from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
Lent has always been my favorite church season. Yes, you did read that right. Lent, the season dedicated to focusing on the suffering, torture, and death of the Son of God, is my favorite church season. While many people relish the joy of Easter, celebrate in the anticipation of Advent, or appreciate the passion of Pentecost, I’ve always preferred the quiet introspection and sorrow that Lent brings. There are a few reasons for this, but one of them is that Lent gives me permission to be sad.
During Lent, sadness is allowed. Hymns, liturgy, my daily devotions, social media posts from other believers: all remind us of the horrible sacrifice made in Christ, and how our hands personally hammered every inch of every nail into his hands and his feet. The season makes us dwell on those thorns that press into his brow, and how we’re the reason it was placed there in the first place. All of this, understandably, brings us sadness. But the benefit, the ‘payoff’ of following that Lenten road down to the depths is immeasurable.
In the essay ‘A Look Inside,’ Edna Hong, lays out why this path downwards is so important:
“No other religion dares to take me down to the new beginning….Lent is a journey that could be called an upward descent, but I prefer to call it a downward ascent. It ends before the cross, where we stand in the white light of a new beginning.”
Only by going down into our depths can we find the true joy of Easter. Only by embracing the sorrow can we experience the true joy we gain in Christ. If we take the time during Lent to look around, to recognize our filthy state, the bright, new robes of our salvation are all the more amazing. Awash in the new, white light from the cross, we have a new beginning. That new beginning is what makes it all worthwhile. Any sorrow or sadness we may feel is eclipsed by the joy felt on Easter morning.
Now what do we do with this joyful new beginning?
In his Lenten essay ‘The Center,’ J. Heinrich Arnold takes all of this a step further:
“In rescuing us from inner death and granting us new life, Christ’s love for us will spill over into our own hearts and give us a great love for him. Naturally it cannot end here, however. The experience of personal purification at the cross is vital, yet to remain focused on that alone would be useless. Christ’s love is so great, it must lift our minds above our little struggles-and any preoccupation with our own salvation-so that we can see the needs of others…”
If we’re given a new beginning, shouldn’t we use it to act as we ought to? With this fresh start, we have the chance to do what we never did. We can love our neighbors. We can feed the hungry. We can clothe the naked. We can defend the weak. We can lift up the downtrodden. We can do all those things Christ has told us to do.
“Well that’s a good goal for after Easter,” you say. “Once I’m alive in the new joy of the resurrection, I’ll be moved to do all those good things.” Here’s a secret though: Christ already died for you. Even better, the resurrection was over 2000 years ago. You can begin your new life now, TODAY. You can answer the needs of others NOW.
Lenten reflection is important. It’s a valuable use of your time in this church season. By following the path all the way to the foot of the cross, you can feel all the more lifted on Easter morning. But don’t let that journey be an excuse. Start something good now.
by Kelsey Knobloch