Thus begins another Lenten journey — the grey days of late winter set a tone and a hue for the next 40 days. Each year this time I reflect on the themes and values that define for me the path from Ash Wednesday through Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and the glory of Easter. All too often we race to Easter and the resurrection — those joyous and triumphant remembrances — without fully engaging the powerful messages of love and sacrifice, suffering and humiliation, loss, grief, fear, frustration, and faith. This is such a rich time. The temptation in the wilderness, the unfolding of the spiritual and political challenges to the status quo, the reinterpretation and revisioning of Hebrew prophecy, the incredible witness to God’s redeeming love — the span of Jesus’ adult life covered in six weeks.
Many people use Lent as a time to give something up. I tend to look for a way to give something more — to spend more time in prayer or meditation or study or service. I want to get more focused, more connected, more engaged. My wife and I talked about fasting one day each week, and using the time for more intentional prayer and thanksgiving. Whenever I think about doing these things for Lent, I wonder “why don’t I do these things all the time?” My daily faith practice is, sadly, a pale, gray shadow of what it ought to be. I know this, and I know I should do something about it (and I do — for six weeks each spring…) but I lack the conviction to sustain it year round.
Last year, for example, I renewed my commitment to study the New Testament in the original Greek — and I did really well for about four weeks. Then life got in the way and I got distracted and busy and before I knew it my Greek NT was on a shelf gathering dust once more. The sad thing is, I was really benefiting from the discipline while I practiced it. I remembered once again how rich and complex the scriptures are, and how really poor and one dimensional most of our translations are. I came across a dozen pages of notes from those days, and I am overwhelmed at how many of our favorite stories are based on poor translations at best. It opens up an incredible wealth of new perspectives and possibilities. Very cool, yet I wasn’t able to stick with it.
Which says more about me than anything else. I often begin with high energy and the best intentions, then fade over the stretch. Part of the problem is I try too often to go it alone. No community, no accountability. I tend to perform best when I am part of a group doing something together (but for some reason I had a hard time finding anyone who wanted to dive into the Greek New Testament with me…). The old, “where two or three are gathered” thing really does work. I am pretty sure that the Lenten journey is not meant to be taken alone. As we move through the days toward Easter, it makes all kinds of sense to do it two-by-two or in small groups. The full impact of our respective journies to Jerusalem can best be explored with a variety of perspectives and points of view.
Jesus ended up walking one of the lonliest and solitary paths to the cross, but by his grace and spirit, we don’t have to walk it alone. First, the Christ is with us — both as Spirit and truth. Second, we are the body of Christ together. The whole concept of community of faith is that we are greater than the sum of our parts. Lent is a reminder that we NEED each other — that we can not be complete in isolation. Third, we are part of an incredible cloud of witnesses that transcends time and space. What Jesus faced alone, we face together. This is the elegant grace of the Christian faith.
Lent, for me, is a contemplative time, a reflective time, and a somber time. It is a time to remember the immensity of Jesus’ death on the cross as a means to salvation for all God’s people. It’s a time for me to remember who I am and who God wants me to be. What a great, gray time. I love Lent.