I’ve never been a member of a liturgical congregation. But somewhere along the way, I picked up a love for Lent, the season in the Church of reflection and repentance in preparation for Easter. It begins (today) on Ash Wednesday and continues for the 40 weekdays leading to Easter Sunday.
With Santas and trees making their advent around October, the Christmas season rarely catches us off guard. But in my experience, there have been years when Easter sneaks up on me, coming and going without much of a thought. Lent challenges us to begin early, to journey toward Holy Week full of intention and with ready hearts.
A favorite painting captures the invitation of Lent. In 1999, I had the privilege of attending an exhibition of the work of Mary McCleary, a Texas artist whose primary medium are mixed media collages. Her works are fairly large and filled with spiritual and Biblical themes. One of her works, “Ash Wednesday / Waller County”, impacted me that day.
The work depicts a boy caught in the darkness of a thicket of brambles. We don’t see his face, only his backside, but we know his gaze is fixed, looking ahead. Out in the distance is an open area on the horizon, a clearing full of light and promise. The painting seems to ask the viewer, “Why is he in the tangle of branches? Is he hurt? Will he make it out?”
McCleary’s painting captures both the reality and promise of Lent. In truth, we are all caught up in the “thickets” of life. The Bible describes these snares as sin. The writer of Hebrews captures the idea, describing sin as “everything that hinders” and “so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). Sin ensnares and holds us back from God’s best, trapping us in a life less than fully human and fully alive.
Lent calls us to reflection and to examine our relationship with God, ourselves, and those we love. As the Psalmist teaches us to pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). We are summoned to notice, examine, grieve, confess, and repent – all for the sake of life.
But thanks be to God, our Lenten journey does not end with morbid introspection, but always beckons us forward. May we never forget that we are headed to Easter and the assurance made manifest in Jesus and on the cross.
As Paul riffs in the book of Romans: “With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?” (Romans 8:31b-32 – MSG).
As in McCleary’s work, we are invited to the “clearing,” to the place of light. And rather than having to find our own way, God has made a way. He frees us of our bonds, clears our path, and leads us toward home!
Therefore, I encourage you to start today. Begin a Lenten journey. Assess where you are and head toward the light.