By Sarah Healy
It was a normal Wednesday morning in the drive-thru line. As a college student in Tallahassee, I dragged myself out of bed most mornings at 4:30 am to help open the local Starbucks. This particular morning, however, I couldn’t understand why so many people had the same bruise on their foreheads. “Weird coincidence,” I thought. “Did everyone get in the same bar fight last night?” Although I grew up in a godly Christian home, this is how little I knew about Ash Wednesday and Lent.
This year David and I decided to explore lent and to press in and see what God wanted to teach us. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting 40 days before Easter. This was patterned after Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Generally, Catholics aged 14 and older abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday leading up to lent. It is also customary to “fast” from something that is important to you or that you would miss in order to propel you to prayer and introspection.
What am I learning about Lent, you ask? First, I’m learning that I’m very bad at it.
I gave up sugar and then accidentally ate some the very first day. I think I’m also eating some daily in my vitamins. Why am I telling you all of this? To point out I’m not even capable of perfectly keeping a rule I made for myself. Which means it’s accentuating my humanity and God’s divinity.
And all of that leads me to grace. “God’s grace, grace that can pardon and cleanse within…Grace that is greater than all my sin.” Lent is reminding me that it was, in fact, my sin that sent Jesus to the cross at Calvary. No amount of good doing and rule following would have made up for the sins in my life. And thankfully, it didn’t have to.
Second, I’m learning that Lent is about lamenting. As I consider the last moments that led to Jesus’ arrest and death I think about sorrow and lamenting. As He prayed in the garden, he lamented. He lamented over the task that was before him. He begged that “this cup may pass.” He lamented over the separation of Himself from His Father. And He lamented the sin of the world and all that it entailed.
He didn’t just weep for the hurt and pain of the present or the past, but also the future.
Our world is daily showing the effects of sin and its pain. As I write now, families of 44 people are mourning the deaths of their loved ones in a Christian church in Northern Egypt. Just this year, hundreds have died at the hand of ISIS and its followers. Many others have died because they are black, police officers, gay, Jewish, or Christian, just to name a few. The hate that runs rampant is a reminder that this is not our home. But as believers, we are wrong to gloss over and ignore this hurt.
Lent has taught me that part of being a Christian is lamenting over the pain and hurt of the world. Pressing in. Like Job’s friends did, we must be willing to sit in the pain with the hurting before moving toward a solution. We must sit in the pain and then offer hope. Thankfully, there is a hope that will not put us to shame. “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
Finally, Lent leads me to love. How can I think about the cross and not think about love? “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.” (Romans 5:7) “This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” (1 John 4:10, The Message) There is no greater love than this.
So it turns out that Lent is much more than a bruise on a forehead.
It’s about grace.
It’s about hope.
And most importantly, it’s about love.
Grace gives us hope in a world full of hurt. This hope points to love. And nearly 2000 years ago, Love Himself walked up the steps of Calvary to accomplish the greatest rescue mission of all time.
Happy Easter, brothers and sisters. He is risen indeed!