Recently, Christians around the globe paused from their busy schedules and went to church. They went mid-week, during prime-time. They skipped TV shows, sports events, coffee or beers with their friends, or maybe the quiet down time of an evening alone. Giving up all these comforts of our modern world, they instead gathered to hear this message, a message as old as life itself: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” and they received the mark of the cross splayed across their foreheads in gooey, black ash.
Winsome, is it not, to ask people to hear the message that they are nothing! Inviting, no, to tell people, so proud of their accomplishments, to reflect and consider where those goals met place them before the God of All-Things. The God who did all by merely speaking all into being? “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Lent is the season of introspection. Self-examination, Paul calls it, for the roots of sin and un-love toward God and His way of doing things. The time of Lent brings us closer and closer to the recognition that not one of us is without disobedience to the word and way of God, as we journey ever closer to that most hideous of blasphemies: the cross.
Why? Why focus upon our divergence? We who love God, who love His people in the world, who even love ourselves in correct relation to the maker, why turn inward and assess our standing before the rule of faith and the word of God? Does not despair lie there? And don’t we flee from despair and depression, from the cut-off feeling of failure, from the pain of severed relationship? Don’t we as a people, a nation, a community desperately try to hide our failures and cover up our weakness? Why turn toward these things and dwell upon them for six long, dreary weeks. A month and a half of hymn-tunes written in piercing minor keys. Fervent invitations, demands, to confession, to self-revelation of the inability to master our basest motives of lust, hatred, theft, and even murder, then to confront once again the devastating effects of those raw primal urges. “Surely, not I,” we might say in echo of the Iscariot.
In Lent, reflect upon your true nature; see yourself in a mirror unclouded by self-grandeur. “Give Me Your Eyes So I Can See,” sang a recently popular Christian song, but it went on to say, “Give me your eyes so I can see them.” This Lent I pray, “Give me your eyes, so I can see me! Show me how I have twisted your clear word to meet my needs. Show me where I have placed me above you and your expectations. Expose me and my ways of contributing to the downfall of what you hold dear.”
Christians without a Lenten assessment are Christians mired in self. Christians who cannot see how they, too, get swept away in, “Did God really say…” Journey with Jesus this Lent, who set his eyes toward Jerusalem and the cross, and journey to the revelation: “Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me.”