Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Lent I Almost Missed

A week ago tomorrow was the beginning of Lent. A time of reflection, repentance, submission, and above all, a six week season of remembering the most profound event in all of human history, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

It began without me. I am not sure why, but by the end of Wednesday, my workaday life has rushed past, and I was not able to find the time to make it to a wonderful tradition of a Lenten service at my church. Early in the day last Wednesday, I even drove by the door of our local Catholic Church, and wondered if I should go inside, risking my Protestant coolness, and receive the imposition of ashes. A sign of my repentance and helplessness before God. Nope, I thought, I am not gonna do that. Wouldn't be prudent. Stay the course. I drove on, too distracted by my own life, and selfconscious of my own weakness to take a small risk, and step forward to receive a mark upon my forehead.

Somewhat ironically, the word "Lent" comes from a Middle Eastern word for spring. Ash Wednesday is a Christian holiday (holy day) that is not a biblical requirement (rather like Christmas). Nevertheless, it has been honored by Christians for well over ten centuries at the beginning of Lent. In the earliest centuries, Christians who had fallen into persistent sin had ashes sprinkled on their bodies as a sign of repentance, even as Job repented "in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Around the tenth century, all believers began to signify their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Even this sign of sinfulness hinted at the good news yet to come through its shape.

A mark. Upon my forehead. A little cross. What would our lives be like, our culture be like, if the cross would not wash off. Permanent. Now that would make life different. Would I behave differently? One of the reasons I don't have a Christian fish on the back of my car is that I am not convinced that my "vehicular Christian witness" would not be perhaps suitable to witness for Jesus at all times.

And so, I hope to take the time over the next five weeks to pause, to think, to reflect on Jesus, on myself, and on my sinfulness, my feet of clay. And to remember the last weeks of Jesus' life, the difficult road he followed, the pain he felt, the loneliness, the confusion. To reflect on his final words, asking God why he had been forsakened.

We are not forsaken, we are found. We are loved. I will not miss the rest of this Lent.

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