You can't conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone, the appealing strangeness of the mercy of God. Graham Greene
To observe Lent is to strike at the root of such complacency. Lent is a time of preparation, a time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty difficult days preparing himself for his ministry. He allowed himself to be tested, and if we are serious about following Christ we will do the same.
Lent is traditionally associated with penitence, fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. It is a time to give things up and to balance it by giving to those in need. Whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose. It does not have to be an annual ordeal where we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures.
We need to remember that Lent is an opportunity, not a requirement.
After all, it is the Church's springtime. Out of the darkness of sin's winter, a repentant, empowered people emerge. It's little wonder that some refer to it "this joyful season!"
Let's borrow from C.S. Lewis. Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy.
Our self sacrifice serves no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart's deepest longing: unity with Christ.
In Christ, in His suffering and death, his resurrection and triumph, we find our truest joy.
This joy is costly. It arises from the horror of our sin, which crucified Christ.
This is a kind of dread. There is this nagging sense that we have missed something important and have been somehow untrue to ourselves, to others, and to God.
Lent is a good time to confront the source of that feeling.
It is a time to let go of excuses for failings.
It is a time to ask God what we really look like.
Importantly, it is a time to face up to the personal role each of us plays in prolonging Christ's agony at Golgotha.
Richard John Neuhaus put it this way: "Send not to know by whom the nails were driven, they were driven by you, by me."
The Good News is that Christ overcame all our sins.
His resurrection frees us from ourselves.
That beautiful empty tomb has turned everything around.
We move from all that is wrong with us and with the world, and spurs us to experience abundant life.
Lent lets us discover Christ anew. He is the scarred God, the weak and wretched God, the crucified and dying God of blood and despair amid the alluring gods of our feel good age.
Christ reveals the appalling strangeness of divine mercy and the Love from which it springs.
Love that could not stay in an imprisoned, cold tomb.
We will surrender to Christ again.
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