If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ~ 1 John 1:8
There are a good number of people who do not like Lent. Reasons vary, but usually it revolves around a disdain for dwelling so much on sin and cross-bearing and repentance and the death of Jesus for sinners. Uck! What could be more depressing? And the questions that sometimes come to me during this time usually stem from either the idea that Luther suggested every Sunday was a little Easter so why can’t we be more joyful, to why can’t the Church just encourage me more rather than pointing out my flaws? I am good sometimes! Thus, Lent is probably the least popular season of the Church Year for many, and especially so if you decide to give something up – the first week is novel, the second week is a little stressful, but by the third and fourth weeks, it is a struggle and you can’t wait for this to be over. Lent can seem painfully long and arduous.
But as for me, I have a different take, and it is not just because I wear the collar. I love Lent. It is probably one of my favorite times of the year. There is a beautiful rhythm to this time of year. The liturgies of the church are some of the best of the year, especially as we dive into Holy Week. The hymnody is powerfully rich in its symbolism by making connections to Old Testament promises fulfilled in Jesus. And certainly, I can appreciate the deeper sense of piety that many hold (albeit sometimes begrudgingly) throughout these 40 days leading into the joy of Easter.
However, more than any of this, Lent affords us the opportunity to talk very frankly about what is wrong with the world and with ourselves. We spend time thinking about sin. Now, that is a word that means different things to different people. On one end, so much has become “tolerated” today, that the concept of sin has lost any real meaning. Anything goes and don’t judge. Thus, sin is no longer sin, but a character flaw that cannot be helped. On the other end of things, sometimes sin is seen as blatant immorality of the worst kind, from which there is little hope. The remedy to this is, of course, to clean up your act and indulge in a little good, wholesome living. Those are the polarities: ignore sin, or put it out of your life. The problem? In both scenarios, everything is left up to you and your discretion.
Sin has corrupted us – it’s a fact. There is no shame in admitting it, and there is nothing depressing about pondering its consequences. What is shameful and depressing is trying to figure out a way around it on your own or thinking that if we ignore sin or dispense with it, everything will be fine. It is not within our ability to save ourselves. It is true that our life on earth is temporal…we will one day die. But our hope lies in the One who has come and dealt with the problem of sin, who has borne our sin to the cross, who has died for us and risen again, so that sin and death will not have its way with us eternally, but we will overcome with Jesus in the resurrection to life everlasting. My encouragement then is to embrace and enjoy Lent for what it is: a chance to confess with sin-parched lips that we cannot free ourselves, and to hear gracious words of forgiveness coming down from atop Golgotha as Jesus announces that your life of sin is finished, and that by his resurrection, eternal life is yours!
Then, for all that wrought my pardon,
For Thy sorrows deep and sore,
For Thine anguish in the Garden,
I will thank Thee evermore,
Thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing,
For Thy bleeding and Thy dying,
For that last triumphant cry,
And shall praise Thee, Lord, on high. (LSB #420, st. 7)
~ Pastor Noack