“Keep examining yourselves to see whether you are continuing in the faith. Test yourselves! You know, don’t you, that Jesus the Messiah lives in you? Could it be that you are failing the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Ok, Personal, pastoral confession time. I don’t particularly like Lent. I understand it. I understand the whole preparation and the rhythm of the church year thing. I get it. But it’s simply never been my favorite time of the year.
I’ve never been big, personally on introspection. I’m usually too busy to take the time to look “deep inside myself”. And let’s face it, at some point during Lent somebody will suggest we look inward and examine our hearts, or take a long hard look at our spiritual life.
Advent doesn’t ask us that. It just tells us to get ready for the coming of Jesus. There’s no introspection, and certainly no self denial. Epiphany doesn’t take any of the fun out of life, it adds to it. Easter and Christmas? Party and celebration time. Pentacost is full of fire and excitement. Lent… Well Lent is different.
Self denial and introspection. Does anyone really enjoy that? I admit I may take it to a whole other level. Have you seen the commercial that begins, “What if I told you one serving of kale would prevent diabetes?” I saw that, turned to my wife and said, “Looks like someone is getting diabetes.” Surely kale is the epitome of self denial. Actually kale is probably the official leafy green of the Lenten season. Want to experience self denial? Want to know what it means to carry your cross? Here have a kale smoothie.
But here is the thing. Each year I observe Lent, not in spite of the fact I’m not naturally wired to it, but because I’m not attuned to it. Life, especially our spiritual life isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s not always pleasant. Lent reminds me of that.
Lent allows us to embrace the entire life of Jesus. We’re supposed to be His disciples aren’t we? That means following Jesus everywhere. Not just to the wedding at Cana,or the party at Lazerus’ house. But also to Gethsemene, to Golgotha, and to the grave. Observing Lent allows us to participate fully in the life of Jesus in ways we otherwise might not.
Lent gives us the opportunity to be obedient to God. Look again at our Scripture. Time and time again, the word of God demands that we take time to examine ourselves. Why? For the same reason we go to the doctor, or do a self examination. Our health depends on it. A physical disease does not go away simply because we ignore it. Or because we would rather not go through the pain or trauma of surgery and rehabilitation. Healing is only possible when we are examined, and when we our treated. So it is with our hearts. No, we don’t like looking at how diseased with sin our hearts have become. But it’s the only way God can begin to heal us.
Lent awakens our compassion toward others. It’s only when we have borne a cross for a while that we understand the burdens others carry. Lent, and a time of self denial, keeps our hearts from becoming calloused and hardened toward others. We experience a greater empathy toward others when we look at our own faults. And as God heals us, we stand as a witness to the power of God to change someone.
So this year, like every year, I’m observing the season of Lent. I can’t say it’s getting any easier. But of course that’s the point. I have learned, though, that my goal is not to have an easy Lent, but to have a Lent that in the end makes me more like Jesus. What’s Lent doing for your life?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><