Lent is a Christian observance that lasts for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week. It’s a time when Christians focus on Jesus’ impending suffering and death on Good Friday. I used to dislike Lent. I wanted to scream to my doleful church pewmates that we didn’t have to be so sad because Jesus wouldn’t stay dead for long. Basically, I wanted to skip over Lent and go straight to Easter Sunday. That is . . . until I read a book that changed my whole mind-set. It’s called Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin, and it’s a devotional that walks you through the season of Lent.
Wangerin writes, “Whenever the journey to Easter begins, it must always begin right here: at the contemplation of my death, in the cold conviction that I shall die” (page 21). On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of the words God spoke to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). A bit morbid, perhaps, but so necessary. I think we humans spend a lot of time and effort avoiding the topic of death—we even circumvent the word “death,” choosing instead euphemisms like “passed on” or “slipped away” (or even sillier ones like “pushing up daisies” or “bought the farm”). Death makes us uncomfortable. In fact, we try to think of ways to stay young and stave off death as long as possible, or even forever.
Mankind has been obsessed with the far-fetched dream of cheating death. It has never ended well, because it’s not God approved and he is smarter than we are. When Adam and Eve were booted out of the garden, God graciously put an angel guard around the Tree of Life so that they could not eat of it—he didn’t want them to live forever in this fallen world. It’s in the garden that we first see God’s plan for salvation. If mankind could die, then Jesus, in his humanity, could die to save mankind.
Turns out we need to be mortal in order to live forever. And it turns out we need to be reminded of our deaths in order to realize we need a life giver. As Wangerin goes on to say, “If you do not interrupt your life with convictions of the death to come, then neither shall your death, when it comes, be interrupted by life” (page 22). Whoa. Read that last quote again; I’ll wait for you.
Death made Jesus’ followers uncomfortable too; they tried to silence Jesus every time he mentioned his upcoming suffering and his kicking of the proverbial bucket. Now imagine the disciples witnessing their friend (and the man they hoped would be their king) die in the most humiliating of ways. On a cross, like the worst of criminals. Although Jesus had been warning them that he would die and rise again, they didn’t understand, and this crucifixion was not in their weekend plans.
Picture yourself as one of the disciples on that anything but good Friday and that very long Sabbath Saturday. Grieving Jesus’ death. Feeling his absence. Fearing this was the end of everything they had given themselves over to for the last few years. When we put ourselves in the bumbling sandaled feet of the disciples, then we can truly suffer with them. We suffer as they follow Jesus to the cross . . . and as they walk away from that cross without anyone’s footsteps to follow. And after suffering with them, only then can we join with them as they walk to his tomb Sunday morning . . . and find it empty! Wangerin puts it this way: “When we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die—because His took the place of ours. . . . Ah, children, we will yearn to hear the Gospel story again and again, ever seeing therein our death in His, and rejoicing that we will therefore know a rising like His as well” (page 22).
Dear Christians, we can’t skip over Lent. It’s a time for sorrow, yes, but as we relive Jesus’ suffering and death, we are then more fully prepared for the joy that is to come. It’s in the light of that sorrow that Easter can be such an explosion of newness, where we are transfigured with Jesus into that joy of his resurrection . . . and ours.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
Missy lives in Green Bay, WI, with her husband, Jon, where they own and run Copper State Brewing Company. She homeschools their four active children, oftentimes at the brewery, and they somehow keep learning in spite of her. Missy loves witty banter, adventures of all sorts, and coffee . . . lots of coffee. And Jesus . . . lots of Jesus.
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