Lent is right around the corner and for those of us Jesus people who have this thing about all God has done in the cross and resurrection, we’re almost giddy. We love the way that if you worship in the evening, the first three nights are dark and the last two are in the light. We love the ritual of it, some us singing Holden Evening Prayer in harmony, some of us taking time for prayer or wonder or self-examination as the sky stretches above us. I even love how commercials for fish sandwiches bombard billboards and advertisements; somehow these don’t depress me the way commercials at Christmas have taken over. Perhaps it’s because it is attached to the church and people’s Lenten practices and pieties and by golly, if you’re a mom or dad and in a rush trying to get everyone fed on a Friday evening, at least you can drive through McDonald’s. God works in the most mysterious of ways.
At one of my former churches, one of those angst-ridden teenage boys who dressed in all black and wore heavy-metal t-shirts and whose ritual on Friday evenings is to put on black eyeliner told me that Lent is his favorite time in the church. I asked him why and he said because it feels like the church is telling the truth about life. “Yes!” I leaned into him and yelled like a hearing-impaired old woman. The moment held the possibility that he would turn away from the church forever, but the truth is, I could have hugged him if it wasn’t a boundary issue. Because Lent does tell the truth, with all that it means to be human.
Recently, I have been making visits to a person in jail who is being held on a very serious felony charge. I have known this person a very long time and if you asked me before this all happened, I would have told you this person has a heart of gold, the sweetest person in the world, someone I absolutely adored. And, the thing is, it’s still all true. Despite being held for a felony, I know this person and the heart of gold is still there, the sweetness, the love. However, this person messed up, pretty badly, you could say. This is not to excuse what this person is accused of doing. Yet, all I can think about it is, this person is all of us, merely human. We are sinner and saint, broken and redeemed, we are unlovable and unbelievably loved. We are people of Lent, people who wait for light, people who live within the reality of the cross; people who await the resurrection. And so, because he knows he messed up pretty badly, he hungers for gospel promises. All of us who sin, which means all of us, should hunger for the same. As this person sits and waits in his personal Lenten darkness, we do too, on behalf of him. On behalf of us.
One of the gifts of Lent is to remind ourselves in God, there is no sin that is greater than the other. We hear that Jesus loves to forgive sin, and any time Jesus gets to hop in and do that, he will. Jesus knows who we are and we may be a teenager who wears all black, or a felon, or a soccer mom, but Jesus knows us, our human hearts and our human conditions. And so, the season of Lent provides us with the background to do what we’re called to do as preachers and proclaimers and preach a love and grace that precedes us, a love and grace that we merely rest into while we live in this kingdom. Our human hearts, our human wills, our human desires are petty and we too often, we hurt and do damage to the ones we claim to love the most. But, now, this time of year, where even the sky’s light must expand past darkness, we preach there is no escape: God’s grace prevails, resurrection happens, and we, who still see so dimly, are given hope.