Welcome to Lent! This is one of my favorite liturgical seasons of the year. For y’all reform protestants and the vast majority of the world, a liturgical season is a time period dictated by the liturgical calendar, or the calendar in which the church operates following the birth of Christ in Advent all the way to Jesus ascending into heaven.
Okay, I promise not to church nerd out too much in the next 46 days.
So why is Lent one of my favorites? First, we need to reflect on what the church teaches us about Lent.
Lent is the time in which we remember the 40 days when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert immediately following Jesus’ baptism. (Personal side note: I think it’s bananas that Jesus’ first mission as Jesus is to go hang out by himself in the desert and not eat or drink anything for 40 days. If I ever get ordained, that’s not how I’ll be spending my time.) You can find the story by clicking HERE and reading Luke 4:1-13.
How do we celebrate this time in the Christian tradition? By putting ashes on our faces, fasting/giving stuff up, taking on new disciplines, and being more introspective while doing more to focus on the world. It’s more than giving up fast food or sugar (but you should do those things because it’s poison). It’s about fasting, examining, preparing, learning, and meditating.
We’ll get to all of that stuff during the next 46 days. Today I want to talk about ashes (and why it’s one of my favorite seasons).
Way back in the beginning of the Bible (in the SECOND creation poem), God makes a dude by gathering up dirt and blowing on it. Boom, human. Then that human is emo and wants a buddy, so God puts that one to sleep, takes a rib out and boom, another human. So here are these two humans running around naked in a super sweet garden just chilling with God and not worrying about a thing. Just naming animals, eating fruit, and having a good time. Then, they messed that up because humans can’t have nice things, and God punishes them. Ladies, that’s why it sucks to give birth to a kid, according to the Bible. It could have always sucked, but no one had ever had a baby before, so maybe it wouldn’t have.
Basically, God says no more hanging out and having everything handed to you (I just imagine God as a baby boomer and Adam and Eve as millennials because it’s funnier that way) and you’re gonna have to work work work work work. Seriously though, Rihanna lyrics work REALLY WELL for God’s curse on the humans.
ANYWAY. God tells the humans “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19 NRSV)
We see this theme repeated in Ecclesiastes (my fav book of the Old Testament) in chapter 3. The author tells the audience all the time to enjoy what you’re doing because it’s all you get to do. That’s why my life motto is “if you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong.” The author tells us much the same in these verses:
Humans and animals come to the same end—humans die, animals die. We all breathe the same air. So there’s really no advantage in being human. None. Everything’s smoke. We all end up in the same place—we all came from dust, we all end up as dust. Nobody knows for sure that the human spirit rises to heaven or that the animal spirit sinks into the earth. So I made up my mind that there’s nothing better for us men and women than to have a good time in whatever we do—that’s our lot. Who knows if there’s anything else to life? (Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 MSG)
We are made from dust. This creation poem in Genesis 2 tells us that God literally takes a bunch of dirt and makes humans. Today, we know that our bodies are made up of microscopic cells that are made up of atoms that are made up of I don’t even know what but I know I can’t see it.
We are made of a bunch of tiny stuff that turns into walking, thinking, breathing, living things.
On Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Maundy Thursday minus Sundays, Christians gather in churches across the world to have ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. I’ve been privileged to partake in the imposition of the ashes (I put them on people’s faces) and guys, it’s not as easy as it looks, and often times the cross ends up being a blob shape of some kind. We do this as an outward symbol of remembrance that, at the end of the day, we are all going to suffer, we will all face hardship, and we will, in the end, all eventually die.
I know that sounds SUPER bleak. It kinda is. But ultimately what we will discover and journey through this lenten season is that we can all take so much joy from our suffering, from our hardships, from our loss, and in death. Because, as we learn on Sunday, death is not the end for us. Dirt and dust is not our final chapter.
As we go through this season together, I hope that you will take time daily to meditate and/or pray on things that seem to be so incredibly important now but, that in the end, won’t matter at all. Focus on things that bring you joy and peace. Intentionally breathe in your humanity and exhale grace, peace, and love.
See you tomorrow!
Creator God, I give you thanks for this day. Thank you for this yearly reminder that someday this life will end and a new one will begin with you in heaven. Thank you for reminding me that my savior suffered like I do, was human like I am, felt pain like I feel pain, and yet was more than perfect enough to save me from all of that. Be with me as I travel this journey. Bring peace to my soul and joy to my heart. Show me your grace in every single day and help me to see your face in every corner I turn.
If you would like to contribute to this lenten blog, please leave me a comment and I’ll get in touch with you! WE LOVE OUR CONTRIBUTORS!