Thoughts at the Beginning of Lent
By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
On Wednesday of this week we arrive at the beginning of Lent, that period of time for spiritual reflection of our lives and spiritual preparation for resurrection morning when once again we are reminded that Christ is alive and death has been swallowed up in victory of eternal life.
This year we begin Lent in the midst of the most conflicted climate that I can ever remember in my lifetime. There is worldwide danger, worldwide hatred, worldwide division and derision. People are feeling anxious for their safety, anxious for their way of life, anxious for their futures. Closer to home the issues of education, healthcare, human rights are in the midsts of conversations everywhere and probably disagreement about these issues has never been more prevalent. And while the words of Jesus, that come to us through the gospels are clear—words that caution us about putting ourselves and desires first, words that plead with us to treat our neighbors with love and respect and compassion—there are so many interpretations that the factions of Christianity are using to put forth agendas, each claiming to be right. How Jesus must sigh over us.
Indeed, this year we are at a perfect moment to begin to think about Lent and reflect on our lives, confess our sins, both corporate and individual, and repent.
This year, more than ever, we need Lent.
One of my favorite stories to use in thinking about Lent is one that I have probably used in this column before. It is an old story about a man from a city who was out driving one day in the country. The signs on the road were confusing to the man and he got lost. So he stopped at a farmhouse to ask directions. “Can you tell me how far it is to the town of Mill Pond?” he asked.
“Well,” said the old farmer. “The way you’re going it’s about 24,996 miles. But if you turn around, it’s about four.”
And in the answer of the farmer is a lesson for us about lent. Repentance is a greek word that means to turn around 180 degrees. Lent is about examining our lives in light of our relationship with Jesus and making a decision once again about following Jesus down a difficult road where there are roadblocks and detours making our way difficult. And, at the end of the journey is a cross, where our Lord Jesus is crucified.
Since it is Lent, Jesus is making that journey anyway, for you and me and for the whole world. We have to decide if we are going to follow or not.
We may decide NOT to follow Jesus this year, but to keep going on the easy way, the way that everyone else is going. I hope not, because the easy way results in more fear, more danger, more hatred, more pain and anguish, more division.
We may decide TO follow Jesus this year, but if we make that decision to follow Jesus, to be a part of this journey, then we have to examine our lives and think long and hard about our journey and our lives. Are we going to travel along the 24,996 easy miles or are we going to turn our lives around, discover where we have failed
God and humanity and ourselves, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness and travel those difficult four miles to center of our faith–the cross.
What are we going to do? It is not as easy a decision as many think that it is. There are those who would say “Ah, just decide on something to give up and be done with it.” They don’t really understand what the season is all about. Like my friend in college who decided to give up chocolate and instead found herself eating more and more of another kind of candy which she essentially substituted.
To make this decision, we have to make a commitment. A commitment to something far bigger and more important than ourselves–a commitment to God and to all of God’s children.
Flannery O’Conner stated the condition of our decision when she wrote:
“I think there is no SUFFERING greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to BELIEVE. What people don’t realize is how much RELIGION costs. They think FAITH is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the CROSS. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”
So what will it be for us? Do we believe and follow or take the easy way and just keep going in the same fashion that our lives have been taking? I hope, for the sake of this world, that we follow the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, even though this way is difficult. And even though it is difficult, on this way there is the love and compassion and forgiveness of Jesus and that will make all the difference for each of us and for this world in crisis.
In this Lenten season, may God have mercy on us.
To God alone be the glory!