Tomorrow begins the season of Lent. Per the highly recommended Biola Lent Project (a daily offering of art, music, poetry, Scripture, and a thoughtful essay, you can get the daily email or add it to your smart phone home-screen to look at daily for free) the tradition of Lent includes six practices: self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, reading, and meditating on God's word. We are culturally aware of the denial part (no dessert for six weeks??) but the full picture is much richer. The purpose is not to build stamina, gain points with God, look more fit, prove toughness. The purpose is to prepare for the manner in which Jesus changes the world.
Because it's not a winner-takes-all-by-force manner. It's a shockingly unconventional, supra-political world renewal. That's why we need inner preparation. As we move through Mark's gospel, we are now in chapter 8. Jesus' followers are fixated on free food and flashy miracles, envisioning a coup that will eliminate the oppressive Roman domination of their homeland and bring them back into their rightful place as BEST. RULING. IN CONTROL of the land. The pharisaic approach reminds me of today's Taliban or Moral Majority--let's make sure everyone follows the jot and tittle of our careful religious structure, let's get some military and legislative control over the offensive personal lives of the citizenry, because that's what it means to be God's country.
But Jesus is heading towards the cross. His path to the throne passes through not just the shadow of death, but ACTUAL death, defeat, loss, grief, pain. He's not going to lead an army, write new laws, win an election, dazzle the crowds, debate the high priest, strike down the corrupt king. Instead he's heading straight towards an apparent disaster. He's going to change the world by a sacrifice that defeats evil in a dimension we can't yet see, and reverses the arc of the universe from decay to glory.
This is a work of subtlety. It's not going to feel great much of the time. It's going to require gritty perseverance in hard places, exposure to danger, personal loss. It's going to keep us out of step with the world's winners. It's going to require eyes that look beyond the surface, pondering the essentials that make life beautiful: faith, hope, and love. It's going to take us on paths where people don't offer awards; where they question our sanity. We can't do that on a steady diet of platitudes and superficial half-truths. We can only endure by Lent-like seasons of inner conditioning.
The end of Lent is Resurrection. There is a table, a party, a celebration. This is not a faith of perpetual misery . . . instead it is a rhythm of fasting that leads to feasting. But we can't short-circuit the process, and pound our way through to comfort. That's what the 1rst century Palestinian Hebrews wanted; that's what the 21rst century prosperity preachers promise. But that's not Jesus' way.
Let's pray for a season to examine, ponder, re-set our sights, paint a new picture of winning, and embrace the way of the cross.
(painting photo from our museum day in London with Julia's RVA classmates, sadly didn't capture the artist credit)