I write this the morning of Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. The jokes about giving up watermelon during this season seem less funny than they did last year. Somehow recycling New Year’s resolutions as Lenten disciplines doesn’t have the same allure. Perhaps this year we’ve seen enough sacrifice and reminders of our own mortality to last us several years of Lenten practice.
For many of us Lenten sacrifices have been… sustainable. It’s rather odd considering that at the end of this season we share the story of Jesus whose sacrifice was the antithesis of sustainability. Oh, I know that the forty days of Lent mirror the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, but we also weave in the story of Holy Week into our Lenten observations. It’s not just forty days of Jesus being hungry enough to be tempted to turn rocks into bread: this wandering eventually leads to Jerusalem and the cross.
We know what happens the Sunday after that Good Friday – which may allow us to gloss over the sheer magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice. I’ve wondered in previous years if the knowledge of imminence of Easter means that we don’t feel the need to literally pick up our own cross and follow in those footsteps. Why sacrifice when you know it all works out in the end?
This year, however, seems different.
This year the sacrifices leading up to this holy season have been significant. Not all have lost family or friends to the pandemic, but we’ve all lost the ability to gather casually and to hold one another close. Talking about giving up chocolate (or watermelon) seems to trivialize those who have said goodbye to dying loved ones via Zoom. Pointing to a year without indoor dining or having to share cramped home quarters with a newly minted “work at home” spouse as sacrificial acts minimizes the sacrifices of others who have had to negotiate far more challenging situations.
Lent is weird this year, and yet the story leading to Jerusalem and the cross remains the same.
I’m not sure what comes next for us… or for the church. What I do know is that sacrifice doesn’t look the same this Lenten season and it somehow parallels the call to risk everything for the Gospel. In the midst of a year of discomfort and grief the thought of entering into six weeks of focusing on discipline and sacrifice seems daunting at best. And yet, deep within my soul there is a hunger for this work and not just because Easter is at the end of it.
It feels like this is the work we are meant to do.