This Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Traditionally on Ash Wednesday the ashes of last years Palm leaves (from Palm Sunday) are imposed upon the foreheads of those coming to the Wednesday service. Usually the service reminds us of the brevity of life, the suffering of our Savior Jesus, and calls us to a season of reflection, sacrifice and self-examination (Lent).
Regarding the sacrifice aspect, it has become traditional for Christians to give up something during Lent. Some of the practices are inconvenient, such as forgoing the watching of TV, or eating chocolate, or going to a favorite restaurant, or participating in Facebook. Some bring greater challenges. One Lenten season a group of pastors I hung around with did a water only fast for the entire season.
So, the question is “Why?” Why would we followers of Jesus deliberately withhold pleasure from ourselves for a season. Why should we say “no” to ourselves?
The easy and most popular answer people come up with is “it’s just what we are supposed to do,” or “someone told me to.” The more personal and productive answer is so we can truly celebrate and understand Easter.
You see, one day each one of us will give up the pleasures of this world like it or not, thus the words “remember, you are dust and to dust you will return” as the ashes are impressed upon the congregant. As followers of Jesus we are reminded that not thinking or reflecting upon the singular truth of our temporary lives here doesn’t make our end any less imminent. We are called to remember pleasure and our life on this planet are all heading to an end.
On the other hand, as Christians we also know and are called to remember that the giving up of pleasure (a reminder of our physical death) is only temporary and that restoration awaits (Easter is coming when what we gave up for Lent will be restored... resurrection is coming and death is not the last word, eternal life is). The Lenten season simply prepares us to understand and experience the exquisite joy Easter brings now and, more importantly, will bring in the future when all is restored and made right. The Lenten season is simply the wrapping that contains the gift of eternal life — we are headed somewhere and one day this will all make sense.
Jason Mraz (meaning to or not) words it like this... “Son sometimes it may seem dark, but the absence of the light is a necessary part. Just know, you’re never alone, you can always come back home.”