Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflections on Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.

There is nothing particularly practical about Lent. 40 days spent purposefully suffering a minor inconvenience or small self-denial seems silly at best.

But then, there's nothing practical about giving instead of taking or in serving instead of demanding. There's no logical reason behind why humility breaks pride, why weakness breeds strength, or why death brings life. 

Miracles are something out of the ordinary, impractical, illogical . . . and yet, real and necessary. And part of Ash Wednesday is remembering the mystery of salvation.

Creative Commons License: "Lots of Blossoms" by aussiegall on Flickr

Of course, the crux of Christianity rests on the idea that logic doesn't always trump and that the visible doesn't always triumph. At the heart of Christianity lies the idea that something very real - though utterly invisible - happens during baptism or communion or fasting. Christianity insists that the physical not only represents, but truly, deeply affects the spiritual and emotional and invisible.

So we commit to giving something up for Lent, holding on to the idea that a gesture of humility will soften our hard hearts.

Uncomfortably, though,  we realize how paltry any self-denial looks when weighed against our guilt, how ineffective are our attempts to achieve our own repentance, how pathetic our penance.

But then, of course, that is what Easter is about, after all. Insurmountable debt paid in full. An irreconcilable gap bridged. Incurable guilt dissolved. And all this despite our inability to help ourselves.

Lent is a reminder of our need for Easter as penance is a reminder of our need for forgiveness and effort a reminder of our need for the gift of grace. The morning can only come after darkness; forgiveness can only come after confession; the rejoicing of Easter Sunday and the ironic gift of the Cross can only come after we acknowledge our failures and our inability to save ourselves.


Monica Jacobson said...

Love the post. I'm always torn between what you said (though I never say it so nicely) and not doing lent at all, because you spend so much time grieving and repenting, and such a short time rejoicing. Perhaps a knee-jerk reaction against crucifying Jesus over and over every Sunday so that we can feel like we've gotten all sorry and Holy, but at some point, I think Lent is more for us than for God. And is it really pleasing to God that we spend more time in regretting than in thanksgiving? I don't know... but thanks for the thoughts.

Emily said...


I always love your comments and thoughts.:-) I totally do know what you mean. I think a lot of it depends on perspective....I find Lent meaningful maybe not because I'm constantly "feeling repentant" but because I'm constantly failing my own expectations and realizing how far short I fall.

I feel like, with this perspective, Lent can become a joyful time in and of itself because it's a time of really *appreciating* grace.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I feel like Lent should be about being grateful, not about feeling guilty.