Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Reflections on Lent, 2005

There is a way to be good again. Thus the sweep of the story of The Kite Runner begins. Written by Khaled Hosseini, the story of betrayal and restoration is told through the eyes of an Afghan refugee. Though the setting is exotic and the culture unfamiliar, the great human struggles are all a part of the story: longing for parental love, rootedness in culture, struggling against violence and chaos, and of course, wrestling with our own wrongdoing and seeking redemption.

Chosen by the Cincinnati Public Library for the 2005 On the Same Page project, this book is peculiarly apt for the Lenten season. Like the narrator, each of us have to face our personal ghosts of past wrongdoings: times we didn’t stand up for a weak person being abused, times we wounded someone we care about, times when we destroyed simply for the joy of destruction, times when we used other people as a means to an end, and then tossed them aside. The ghosts are all very personal, and they come back to us in the quiet hours as we drift off to sleep or in the morning when we pray for the alarm clock to hold off for just a while longer. They haunt us when we catch a fragment of a long forgotten tune or a whiff of an old familiar perfume. And as the ghosts swirl about in our heads, we long for a way to be good again.

Some view spiritual disciplines, such as Lenten fasts and worship services, as the way to recover that lost goodness. “If I work really hard at this,” so the thinking goes, “then God will have to recognize what I’ve done – and I’ll feel clean.” And after weeks, months, and years of agonizing effort, the end result is either frustration and despair (for they learn they can’t work their way to cleanliness), or legalism and self-righteousness (for if they can do it, everyone else should do it too).

The truth is that God doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t need our effort. Scripture teaches “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We don’t work our way to God, but God graciously extends kindness to us through Jesus Christ. The season of Lent inevitably culminates in Good Friday and Easter. On good Friday, we commemorate Christ’s death that makes us clean – as the prophet says: “…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). There is a way to be good again.

Lent is not the season in which we engage in discipline to make God like us. It is the season in which God engages us in discipline to make us more like Him. After we learn about God’s grace in Ephesians 2:8-9 (quoted above), we read: “For we God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God loves us just the way we are, but God doesn’t leave us the way we are. God’s grace is transformational.

And that’s what the Lenten disciplines are about – not so much about being good again (for that is the point of Good Friday and Easter), but about being transformed into the image of the Creator of all truth, goodness, and beauty. The Lenten disciplines are about surrendering our lives to the God who is there, the God who is not silent. Lent is about learning to trust in the grace extended to us through Jesus Christ.