Lent began yesterday with ashes at 12:00 noon and again in the evening at 7:00. Here’s what I like about this season: it takes spiritual struggle seriously. Not that we don’t take it seriously at other times, but Lent is up front about the toughness of a serious spiritual life. And by that I mean: it’s no fun to die to your self. There’s joy on the other side, when release and freedom come. But on the way, it’s struggle. That’s why the death of what Luther called self-concern is experienced as a cross. The good news: there’s help. The major victory was already won.
The spiritual practices of Lent, which, according to Jesus in Matthew 6, should be done secretly, really are directed toward release, or renunciation. But the real fast of Lent we heard in Joel and in Isaiah: the real fast is about becoming peacemakers, about seeking justice, helping others not only as individuals, but in a systemic way–taking on, (as in doing battle with), the systemic oppressions of a culture. Salvation isn’t a personal private undertaking in our scriptures–it happens on a grand scale, the whole of creation, every nation, all peoples. But that means that selfishness has to die, too, on a grand scale.
Here’s what I take refuge in knowing: every action has transcendant consequences–so that all of what we do matters. It means that our ethics matter, the choices we make each day, for ourselves, our families, our communities. Choose life, Moses said. Christian freedom doesn’t mean there’s nothing we have to do–it means there’s everything to do, there’s life to do, in faith, hope, and love. Even the small daily actions, like not returning anger for anger, reshape our lives–because they reshape our relationships. Jesus didn’t come so that the world or we would go along the same way; he came to change it. He came to change us.
Lent is a time of struggling with real change in our lives–and when the Word comes, and puts sin to death in us, we feel it as a dying. We can get better at dying to self–we can anticipate it. We know what’s going to make us angry, or bitter, or resentful; we know what’s going to affect our desires for the wrong things, or our unhelpful thought patterns, the decisions and actions that lead to pain. And that’s helpful, because it means we have a head start. We can ask for spiritual help, for wisdom, for guidance, and we can let go. Jesus was a spiritual warrior–look at the spiritual tactics he used: faith, forgiveness, love, patience, gentleness, kindness, truth, truth, truth.
Lent’s a time to surrender: to really let go of our self-concern in the way we renounce sin and evil in our baptisms. Renunciation is real–it’s not a casual promise. Let go of what gets in the way of loving God and serving our neighbor. Whatever it is, try life without it.