We have just entered the season made sacred by Jesus’ urgent invitation: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). I confess my need of Lent—that time of the year when the mind’s eye and the heart’s ear give acute attention to the sin that necessitated the cross of Jesus, to the diabolical stratagems of denial and dismissal that would minimize our own and maximize other’s complicity in that sin, to the continuing need all Christ-followers have of remembering the sacred story and, in remembering, reenacting it, and to confess the desperate, never-ending need we all have for mercy and grace.
I need Lent even when I do not feel the need. Centuries of faithful following of my spiritual forebears convince me that “not feeling” the need actually signals the depth of my need. How foolish to allow my present insensibility to trump the persistent witness of countless brothers and sisters who have “felt better” than I sometimes do.
I need Lent for reasons not unique, but common to all who desire the company of Jesus.
I forget the way of the cross that Christ trod for me, or at least I allow that way to recede into the background, even though the call is to take up the cross daily. Forgetting almost always leads to diminishing, diminishing the cost of cross-bearing for Jesus, and therefore the grace of assuming that cost for me. Diminishing can even lead to trivializing, so that the cross becomes a trinket—whether literally merely a piece of jewelry to wear or figuratively as only a familiar concept with which I am conversant. In both forms, cross-as-trinket “proves” my orthodoxy even as it imperils my soul. So, I need this time to recall, to re-envision Jesus’ painful path, to let his torturous way for me sink into my soul, and to lay me low in my unworthiness only to lift me into the arms of LOVE! Once lifted, great gratitude displaces conquered pride and the energy of new resolve joins with spiritual power for the next steps on the journey.
I need Lent because I truly long to walk in closer and unhindered fellowship with the Living Lord. He has invited me to walk with, as well as follow after, him. We have a relationship, the two of us, though it is not exclusive and private, rather reaching out to others who would join us. Because we’re all bound by blood-bought and love-laced relationship, rather than some sort of legal contract, our interaction becomes close, inevitably leading to irritation and offense. I do not normally intend to hurt people, certainly not our Lord, nor others, and God’s grace and Spirit have restored much within me that has often hindered my expression of loving intention. Still, within these relationships I sometimes hurt others. And, since I usually do not intend to hurt, I easily rationalize, minimize, or even deny the hurt. But hurt is hurt, and hurt hurts! If I am involved in hurting anyone in any way, I must own it, confess it, repent of it, and seek restoration and deepening of the relationship with the other person and my Lord. The weeks of Lent provide special opportunities to consider the hurting that may be part of my relationships. And the season is long enough that this consideration could become holy habit.
I need Lent because I am so eager to get past the cross to the glory. I am keen to take up my cross once for all and be done with it. I am often dull to the fact that this call is daily, on going, and simply the way of all Christ-followers. I am charmed into thinking that glory somehow exists independently from, or at least beyond, the cross. When, in fact, cross and glory always go hand in glove. In fact, the victory and power I’ve imagined as somehow beyond cross-bearing finds its normal and supernatural habitat precisely in cross-bearing, in denying the idolatry of self, in a death to the lust of flesh, pride of life, and lure of the devil. How am I to know victory over these enemies of God’s kingship in my life? Only as the Spirit of God frees me and empowers me to take up the cross in the particulars of my daily life. What are those particulars? Where am I most vulnerable? Where have I compromised, given in to the seduction of an easier way? How have I made peace with some rival to the pre-eminence of Christ? What needs to be nailed to the cross, to the glory and good of his Kingdom? Ah, this is the season when such questions press for answers. Shouldn’t they always? Of course, but again, the season encourages habits that are helpful and holy.
I need Lent because though I have some sense of recurring need (as I’ve indicated above), I cannot know fully and finally all that I need. What grace I find in seasons of the year when I allow Another to diagnose my needs! How often the Spirit addresses needs I knew about, only to uncover and point to things that had escaped my notice. Indeed, the latter are sometimes the most important.
Jesus solemnly declared that those who seek to save themselves will lose themselves, and he promised that those who lose themselves will find their true selves and real life. Implicit in the declaration and promise is the truth that I do not know what I need without help, which comes only be relinquishing myself to the care of Another. Perhaps that relinquishment is itself my most basic need!