In March we observe Lent and yet we also celebrate Easter and that presents an interesting challenge to anyone writing an article for a church newsletter. Do you write about Lent and ignore Easter, or do you jump to Easter and ignore Lent? How about writing about both?
Well, the answer is both because we should always think about Lent and Easter together. One without the other is to proclaim only half the Christian message. To emphasize one over the other is to diminish the power of the Gospel. But that is exactly what has happened down through the centuries.
At one point Lent, which is meant to be a time of repentance, came to be emphasized more than Easter. Even more, Lent became a time of morbid introspection and contemplation of the sufferings of Christ, and the Church seemed to be more concerned about how lost and lousy people were than about the new life and hope proclaimed in Christ’s resurrection. Maybe that’s why Lent is not observed by many people today.
But to ignore Lent and emphasize Easter alone is just as misleading. We do need a time to take a hard look at ourselves and hear as well that suffering and death is part of Christ’s story, the Christian story. It need not be morbid, but clear-eyed and honest. Without Lent the Christian proclamation becomes one of triumph only and Easter itself becomes little more than a celebration of the reproductive capabilities of chickens or the habit of flowers to pop out of the ground every spring. As such, it has little power to speak to our day-today lives and the hard truths and realities of this world.
So Lent and Easter must be kept together. When they are, they proclaim an honest, real, powerful message that leads to an honest, real, powerful faith. It is a faith that is deeply aware of how divided at heart we can be, how devoted we can be to the little gods of our culture, and how our values and wants and moods and opinions and actions are often shaped more by the story our culture tells about the “good life” than they are by the story the Gospel tells about Christ’s life. And it is a faith that is deeply aware that there can be a great cost to following Christ, that often there is little sense of triumph and mostly a sense of being on the losing side. And it is a faith that is deeply aware that pain and suffering and death are a part of life. So it is a faith that understands that we need to keep turning toward God, to keep struggling to be shaped by Christ’s story, and to hold fast to God in the midst of all that happens even though our faith may become tattered and torn.
But it is also a faith that gives the strength to lift up our hearts in hope, even the strength to conquer ourselves and all things and live with courage and goodness and gladness and kindness. It is a faith that keeps our eyes open each day for the impossible things God can work because, as someone else has put
it, you never know when something will easter up out of the dimness to bless and heal and give life. It is a faith that dares to dream the impossible for this earth -- the dream of peace, people coming together in peace and sharing the abundance of this earth, food enough and shelter enough and hope enough for all God’s children. And it is a faith that can look at death and see life, know suffering and yet live with hope, experience defeat and painful loss and yet be filled with the fullness of God and believe that somehow all shall be well.
A Lenten faith alone ends in despair; an Easter faith alone ends in disillusionment. So always, both together: a Lenten-Easter faith, the best symbol of which is a cross, an empty cross.
God be with you,