Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. (Luke 4:1-2, NRSV)
I looked up a few days ago and realized that it was almost Ash Wednesday, the kickoff for the Season of Lent in the Christian Church. It seems like just yesterday we were huddled around the “Glory Manger” marveling at this precious gift given to us by God, the Christ Child, the Son of God. Now we approach a time when we look towards his death – how time flies. Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010, is the official beginning of the Lenten Season, a season when followers of Christ orient their minds away from the magnificent smallness of Christmas to the aweful magnificence of the cross and subsequent resurrection. I hesitate to even mention the resurrection at this time because so often we rush to Easter without recognizing and paying due homage to the suffering, not only of Calvary, but the suffering experienced by Christ his entire earthly life. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower to the Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace.
We all have our own crosses to bear. Yes, the life of the Christian is about a glorious resurrection, salvation from eternal death, a magnificent impartation of eternal life, a drink from the well “that never shall run dry;” however, the life of the Christian is also one of death, self-denial and self-sacrifice, giving of oneself for the salvation of others. What a glorious paradox! What a magnificent faith! Not only are we called to life, but we are also summoned to death. The rest of the Christian year is dedicated to the former half of the Christian double-consciousness; Lent speaks to the death of the Christian. It is during Lent that many Christians choose to fast from one thing or another (or a lot of things) not seeking to gain anything material, but a better understanding of the Christian Life. It bothers me when people talk about fasting during the Season of Lent in terms of hoping to get something, that completely defeats the purpose. We are to fast, not seeking to get, but seeking to give. We ought to fast seeking to connect with the selflessness of Christ and to call our minds to his suffering during his earthly life. Sure, we will be sustained during our seeking, but we ought to seek something higher, bigger, broader, grander than ourselves – the Life of Christ manifest in us.
I am looking forward to this season of penitence where I turn my focus away from myself and look towards the heart of the Christian life, a season of death looking at life. Those observing Lent are called to self-denial, even mild suffering through self-denial, and intensifying spiritual disciplines such as prayer and meditation in order to call our mind above the immanent world to the transcendent divine.
Lent prepares our minds for real ministry. Too often the church becomes self-serving and self-oriented. We can get so caught up in the liturgy, order of worship, magnificent adornments that fill our churches, the vestments, the manufactured trappings of religion. After a season of selflessness, a season of prayer and fasting, and a season of focused and intentional attention on Calvary, then our spirits are prepared to be the bread of Life for a hungry soul or the salvific cup for one who is thirsty. We become the vessels of ministry (lay or ordained) through which God heals, restores, feeds, houses, clothes, and loves. Why? Because after a season of focusing our minds on Christ and what he did for us, we realized “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45, NRSV)” and that as followers of Christ, we ought to mirror this.
We will emerge from the desert of Lent better prepared for ministry, with our minds fixated on the glorious resurrection of Christ, and our spirits rejuvenated and re-energized, but be present in the Lenten moment. Be present through intentionality in this Lenten Season.
The Word of Marcus for the People of God…