Ash Wednesday

“Do you ever look inside yourself and see what you are not?”   A crippled daughter hurls that question at her spiritually crippled mother in a Flannery O’Connor short story (“Good Country People”).  And G.K. Chesterton wrote about the Christian faith as the only religion “that dares to go down with me into the depths of myself.”

These are quotes I came across this morning, on this first day of my Lenten readings.   They strike at the heart of what we’re called to during Lent, don’t they?  At least part of it.  It is a season of reflecting and remembering.  Of self-examination.  A season of looking into what Walter Wangerin called “the mirror of dangerous grace.” (Reliving the Passion, p. 25)   Pretty scary, if you ask me.

That’s why I’m thankful that we’re called to even more than just looking inward during Lent.  I am so thankful that we are also called to look upward.  To look upward to Jesus on the cross.  And even as we gaze at His outstretched arms, even as we remember that “we carry His nails in our pockets” (Was it Luther that said that?), we also remember that He did it for us.  That His grace is far greater than our most hideous sins.   That it was His love for us that held Him there.

But only for a time.   For even as we journey through Lent, we know where the end of the journey will bring us.  To that “whooping joy” (Wangerin again) of the resurrection.  Jesus alive.  Our redemption accomplished.  Heaven ahead.  What a mysterious mix, this Lenten season, of sad/glad feelings.  Of horror (at what I see in me if I look closely enough) and hope.  Of despair (of where we would be without Him) and ecstatic joy (we’re not without Him!).  A season of remembering.

Those of you who know me will know that, of course, I began once again this morning reading my favorite Lenten book: Reliving the Passion, by Walter Wangerin.  And of course I re-read that marvelous preface that is well worth the price of the book.  Somehow it is just as wonderful year after year.  Walter Wangerin, as a small boy, climbs into the story of Jesus—and we join him.

Such a dramatic reminder of the power of story.  Especially this True Story.  This most important story ever told.  For our children.  For us.   Remember it well this Lenten season, as we prepare for Easter.  Tell it to your children in age-appropriate ways.  Remember.  Reflect.  And prepare to rejoice!