What is Lent really about?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Lent is the season of the church year that prepares the faithful for Easter. Some might ask, what kind of preparation could someone possibly need for the celebration of new life? Easter is joyous after all. It’s full of life. Yes, but…that’s only part of the story.

As I have said many times before, you have to go through death in order to get to resurrection. Our tendency is to want to skip over the death part. Death is pretty uncomfortable in many ways. It’s not fun. It’s painful. It’s full of sadness for many. We’d rather not think about it. Lots of people don’t even plan for it. Here’s the thing, everyone will experience death at some point. Death is a part of the cycle of life.

There are many who consider Lent a time of self-reflection. An opportunity to quiet oneself, assess where we are in life and how we are living into the faith we have been given. It’s a time to ask yourself – What needs to die in my life? What is in way of faithfulness? What beliefs, identities, and parts of my life have been put on a pedestal that I look at to make decisions, rather than God?

Lent is counter cultural in some ways. Our culture tells us we can have anything we want, when we want. We don’t have to wait and we are right for wanting what we want. Our culture is focused on how we can consume information, ideas, identities, and of course stuff. All of this is accompanied by a message that is constantly fed to us that says that we are incomplete, not enough, lacking. Amazing how the richest nation in human history is lacking, isn’t it? And in some ways, it’s absolutely true – we are lacking.

This reminds me of the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. A rich man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to earn eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and the man says that he has been. And then Jesus hits him with this line – “you lack one thing.” A rich man who is lacking. And what is he lacking? Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. And the man went away sad because he had many things, we are told.

Lent is a time to be more radical. One of the definitions of radical is: Departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme or drastic.

And there is another definition: Arising from or going to a root or source; basic.

Both of these are radical in nature and are very related to one another. What is more radical in a consumerist society that tells us we aren’t enough even though we have far more than practically the rest of the world? Giving it away because we have more than enough.

What is radical in a society that often lives by the creed that the ends justify the means? Freely giving away forgiveness, mercy, grace, and having empathy for others. Loving our neighbor and our enemies. Seeing the image of God in others and acting accordingly.

What is radical in a society that values the strong and mighty? Valuing the voice and experience of the outcast, the oppressed, and those on the margins of society. And when their voices are constantly quieted, then echoing what they are saying so that their words are heard.

What is radical in a society that seems bent on cruelty, violence, and fear? Acting and speaking with intentionality in ways that move us towards peace, shalom, and hope. To do this over and over and over again. To do it even when cruelty, and violence, and fear threaten us if we don’t stop. Saying No! is a radical statement to people who aren’t used to being told no and who are used to getting their way and will use force if they don’t.

Lent is a time to be radical. To receive and give radically. And what is it that we need to receive? Forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, compassion, peace, shalom, healing, wholeness, value, worth, empathy, and more. And those are the same things we are called to give. We receive them in an overflowing abundance and as a result, we spread what we receive to others. There is more than enough to go around.

Lent is a time to be radical. To have less focus on myself – turning inward on myself as if I am the only one that matters. And instead, to be reshaped in such a way that I am look out to others and see their value and worth. It’s a time to see more of God. It’s a time to not only let some things die that are in the way, but to move those things to death quicker. To mourn what has been lost. To come face to face with my own mortality. To look at death in the eyes and listen to it tell me in no uncertain terms that I am not in control.

Death prepares us for resurrection. It is an essential part of the process. Death strips us of the facade of control. And God is the one who does the work of resurrection – giving us new life in a way that God wants it to be. We play no part in the process, but only receive.

Lent is a time of life, death, resurrection. Not just when we are talking about physical life, death, and resurrection, but every day and in every way. It is radical in how it sees the world and our place in it. It is radical in the hope that it offers. It is radical in looking with clear eyes at what the world is actually and truly like. It is radical in the promise it offers with Easter. It is radical.

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