Contemplating Ash Wednesday

Today begins the season of Lent. The truth at the base of the universe is love. The core characteristic of the Christian is love. God is love. But love is not always easy or fun. True love runs deep through the currents of life, on the murky bottom as well as the glistening surface. True love flows through the brokenness and pain as well as the victorious and pleasurable. Committed love calls forth not only the highest joys, but also the deepest sacrifice. While true love may run joyfully to the mountaintop, true love also walks open-eyed and purposefully into the valley. True love runs truest in the steady steps of the one who walks knowingly into the dark places for the sake of others, in the decisions of the one who contemplates pain and loss, and willfully embraces it for the sake of another.

Lent is the season wherein we contemplate the darker places where love flows. Lent is a season of unpleasant truth, of spiritual surgery. The valley. The murky bottom of our souls. Sin. Brokenness.

  • Lust: the desire to use people or things for our pleasure in ungodly ways
  • Gluttony: consumption without stewardship of ourselves or others
  • Greed: the desire to have wealth, status, power
  • Sloth: laziness or indifference
  • Rage: hatred or anger that leads us to hurt ourselves or others
  • Envy: desiring that which is anothers
  • Pride: the exalting of one’s self.

The Lenten journey is a journey into darkness but it is not a journey alone. The most amazing and unexpected thing awaits us in this journey: Jesus. As we look down into the sinful places, the broken places of our lives, the places where we ourselves fear to look, let alone let anyone else into, we see someone there. We are not alone. We see Jesus.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us… [2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)]

We look down into the grime and muck in our hidden places and see that God—our glorious, wonderful, perfect creator God—has, in Jesus Christ, voluntarily walked into both the darkness of the world and the personal, individual darkness of humanity.

“…He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” [Isaiah 53:4 (ESV)]

And the full truth is yet more horrible and wonderful: Jesus died.

Pain is one thing, death is another. Pain comes and goes. Death just comes. The scriptures tell us that death is the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death.” Some people even get away without paying taxes, but nobody outruns death. “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” God told Adam and Eve after they had sinned in the Garden of Eden. That is the truth. “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

And the horrible, wonderful truth is that God, in Jesus Christ, became dust. God became dust and went through mortality. Oh, the scandalous sacrifices that love draws out of those who are willing to love—the unfathomable forfeiture of Jesus Christ who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or clung to), but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even deathon a cross.” [Philippians 2:6–8 (RSV)]

And the strangest thing… it is by going into the murk that we become clean.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:21 (RSV)]

By staring into the darkness, we find that light invades our deepest places.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world… to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:5–14 (ESV)]

God is full of grace and truth.

Grace without truth would leave us wondering if we are really acceptable, because grace without truth would leave the hidden places hidden. We are left wondering about God’s love for use because we are left wondering if we are truly known.

Truth without grace might seem satisfactory on first glance, but truth without grace in the presence of the holiness of God would crush us utterly. To simply shine light into the cobwebby corners of our soul without hearing “I love you” would reduce us to ashes.

But Lent isn’t just about getting to the last dark and dusty corner of our soul. Who can even plumb the depths of their own thoughts, words and actions?

Lent is acknowledging our need, even the darkness we cannot or won’t see, knowing that the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus covers all our sin. When we do get into the dusty corners or the murky bottom, we may be surprised, but God never is. It is God’s all-probing love in Jesus Christ that gives us courage this Lent to be contemplative, to consider deeply the fullness of both the beauty and the brokenness in our souls, because God has looked into our souls, seen our need, sent a Savior, and now cries out in an ever louder chorus, “I love you, my child, I love you. Don’t hide from your brokenness. Search it with me at your side. Discover it with me at your side. Find healing with me at your side. And even discover, in my wild universe, how I can bring blessing out of it.”

Lent is the time to let the profound “I love you” of God illuminate the darkness so that you and I can grow in grace and truth and peace.