So here we go yet again on this journey we call Lent, what we often see as this forty day exercise for our soul, to make it, somehow, more spiritually fit. Except Lent isn’t so much about what you and I are about to do these next several weeks; it’s about a journey that has already taken place, that was much more than an exercise that lasted for a short period of time, but a journey that went through the depths of humanity: through guilt and shame and sickness and fear and despair and horror, and even through death itself; all the way up a hill with a cross on the back into a dark empty tomb. The journey has already been completed. It’s already done. You and I are already taken care of not only for the next forty days, but also all the days leading up to this night, and for all the days still left to come on this earth and beyond. It’s done!
So hopefully you hear in no uncertain terms tonight the Promise that God is making to you, even through ashes of all things: that no matter how many sweets you pass up the next forty days, or how well you look past the red meat on the restaurant menus, or how much you can walk by the alcohol at the store; or even if you plan on adding additional prayer time, or reading the Bible more, or giving more to those in need, or volunteering more; all of which are incredibly great things for all of us as children of God and for our communities.
However, no matter how unbelievably well you do all the above the next forty days, or even all the remaining days of your life, the promise tonight is that God will not love you anymore than God already does. The promise tonight is that although you could very well feel closer to God by taking out or adding on for spiritual discipline; God will not get any closer to you, because God is already intimately close, far more than we could ever realize or even want on some of our not-so-pleasant days. Through it all, the message we heard only just over a month ago is still as true: God is Emmanuel, God with us each and every day of this life and beyond. We cannot bring God any closer these next forty days. We cannot somehow convince God to love us more than God already does, no matter how well we do these next several weeks.
It’s frustrating to hear that in our human concept of seeing the world, where we can have so much control on not only ourselves, but the lives of others, whether we see it first-hand or not. We also earn people’s trust; we even earn other’s love. Not so much in God’s world. And that is the world we cling to tonight: the Kingdom of God we so desperately need because in a few moments we will be reminded through the ashes that we are but dust, and unto dust we shall return. And yet in God’s world, the world that invaded ours with divine grace and love, ashes can be formed again into life. Life can be brought out of death. Resurrection can come on the other side of the Calvary hill, where a cross can still stand, but the body can be raised. This evening, we hear in no uncertain terms, that we cannot earn what comes after the ashes tonight in the form of bread and wine, the body and blood, the encapsulation of grace and hope for the world through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
So if that is the case, if we truly cannot earn God’s love, if we cannot somehow achieve life after death, if it really is nothing more than God’s unexplainable grace, than why exactly do we give up or add on whatever these next forty days; if God isn’t going to love us more or get closer to us anyway? Maybe it’s for us to catch a glimpse of what our Savior did for us and for the world. Maybe it’s for us to just slightly understand sacrifice not only for ourselves, but for others. Maybe it’s for us to better grasp compassion and mercy for our neighbors, just as Jesus did. Maybe it’s to further shape and mold us as His now living disciples for the sake of the world.
Nevertheless, in the end, it’s quite possible Lent is meant for us to grapple with wondering why in the world would Jesus do this for us. Why would God love us this astonishingly much, to the point of painful death? And why would God return from that awful, hideous death to the same world that did it to the Messiah, and say that resurrection from death is not just for Him, but for all of us often self-obsessed human beings? Why? Why does God love us that much?
However, maybe for these next forty days, for this journey we take yet again in this life, perhaps God uses Lent as a way to reveal to us year after year this ultimate message: that no matter how much you mess up these next forty days, no matter how guilty you feel about all the days leading up to it, or all the fears and worries about the days thereafter; God says, “I love each and every one of you so much that I would do all of this all over again!” The journey of that most sacred reminder of God’s undisputable love for all of us begins tonight! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon