Happiness: obviously not the first emotion that comes to mind this time of the church year, for this season we call Lent. After all, there’s too much talk about pain and suffering, sin and darkness, crucifixion and death, for there to be any happiness whatsoever. And yet there’s the psalm this morning, the very first word: happy; happy are we forgiven children of God.
Nevertheless, over the decades past, preachers would take immense advantage of Lent in reminding people in the pews that we were the reason why there’s this seemingly dark depressing season at all. It was our fault that Jesus had to die. It was our sinfulness that pushed Him up that hill with a horrendous cross on His torn-apart back. It was our self-centered manipulation of God’s beautiful gift of free will: we used it to harm others, including God’s Creation, for our own selfish good.
And because of that embarrassing behavior with each and every generation God became so angry that God was actually overwhelmed with an unquenchable wrath to the point Jesus had no choice but to satisfy God by giving Himself up in a horrible anguish-filled sacrifice, taking our well-deserved punishment upon Himself instead. So with each and every depressing sermon over the years came this undeniable feeling of awful guilt, cowering us into a dark corner, hoping that God wouldn’t be too overly displeased with whatever we did wrong, including whatever we did that we didn’t even realize was wrong to God.
So, yes, this season of Lent has not received the most positive response from Christians over the centuries. This time of the church year only serves as a not-so-pleasant reminder of our shortcomings. It reinforces the overpowering culpability, that maybe we did have something to do with our Lord and Savior’s arduous death. It only furthers this cultural belief that the more sins we commit will actually affect our eternal fate.
We desperately need the reminder from the psalm this morning: “happy” we most certainly should be, even during Lent. Hopefully we have come to the point in our understanding of God that we remember from another psalm that God’s anger lasts only for a moment, and the divine favor lasts an entire lifetime. Or lest we forget the verse that is supposedly drilled into Christians from sanctuaries to professional stadiums, that God so loved the world to send the only Son to save it, not to condemn it. Happy should we be indeed!
This forty day expedition of sorts that we know as Lent places us side-by-side with our Savior on that sacred journey He took for us, not out of anger, not out of wrath, not out of manipulation to make us feel like it’s our fault, but out of an unbelievable love for all humanity. This season is meant to immerse us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, into each and every part of the Gospel story we hear these forty days.
We stand in the crowd as He heals a life-long crippled man. We see Him staunchly rise in front of stones about to be ferociously tossed at an adulteress. But we’re also there on the Calvary mountaintop as this innocent son of a carpenter is crucified for no reason at all other than instigating hope to a broken world. And, at the same time, we hear Him boldly proclaim forgiveness for all the people who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing to the Son of God. That is us in the crowd time and time again! That’s our Savior doing all this for us, and for people we don’t think deserve it in the least. That’s our Lord, our Messiah, at work for the world, including for us. Happy are we, evidently precious children of God in the eyes of Jesus Christ.
So, no, this season of Lent is not to make us feel guilty as we look up to the cross. It’s not supposed to convince us that we’re deplorable sinners, wondering how could this God possibly love us at all. Instead, these forty days should instill a much needed reality check as heard from the psalm: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” covered entirely by Jesus’ love, so that we are not seen as no-good-for-nothing sinners in the eyes of God or even through each other, but as worth-dying-for precious children of God.
Happy are we, because this Savior of the world thought we were worth the journey, not only from heaven to earth, but from life to death, and back to life again. Happy are we that Jesus not only believes we are worth God being with us each and every moment in this life, but evidently cherished enough to bring us out of the darkness of death into the light of eternal life, that was thought to be reserved only for the Son of God. Happy are we that this journey we call Lent provides us the sacred opportunity to join our Savior these forty days all the way to the cross and that empty tomb on the other side. Happy are we claimed precious children of God from life to death and beyond forevermore! Thanks be to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon