Lent is a strange time in the church’s life. It’s awkward and difficult for us to look at our own lives and see chips and flaws and other things that make us so human. It is truly the dark night before the sunrise joy of Easter. Understandably, many churches shy away from observing Lent because of its call to deep introspection and acknowledgement of our own sinfulness.
Lent will always be a strange time for me personally, as well. It was six years ago this Lent that I was diagnosed with MS. It started with a limp and some numbness, and led to a hospitalization and life-changing news. Lent is a time to remember our mortality, and nothing says “mortality” like lying in a hospital bed knowing you have “abnormalities” in your brain. I entered the hospital on Ash Wednesday, and began my own difficult journey, much like Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.
That period of time was such a struggle. I was trying to finish seminary, continue my work for the church, solidify a church position after graduation, and be a husband and father, all the while wondering what this diagnosis meant for me and my future.
And yet, even in the darkest of nights, the light of Easter was shining on me, however dimly. I saw the Easter light in my wife, Leigh, whose support and love made it possible for me to even get out of the hospital bed and face my disease. I saw the Easter light in my family and church friends, in my seminary colleagues, all of whom were lifting me up in prayer to God. I saw the light of Easter in a congregation in someplace called Lincolnshire, Illinois, who didn’t even know me, and yet were praying for me and affirming their excitement about my arrival as their associate pastor. Even in the darkness of Lent, I knew Easter was coming.
It’s not easy to face our own mortality, our own limits. We’d like to think we’ll live forever, that we’ll be untouched by tragedy or disease, that our belief somehow protects us from life. But it doesn’t. Belief in Christ doesn’t exempt us from any of life’s challenges; but it does strengthen us for them.
This season of Lent we are now in brings challenges for all of us, and as we look at our own lives and faith, the places we fall short can become glaring to us. But don’t forget what’s coming. Don’t get so focused on who you’re not that you forget who you are. You are a child of God. God loves you, warts and sins and diseases and all.
That’s what Easter is all about. It’s a reminder that God recognizes are humanness and weakness, and loves us as much as his own son. Our humanity may cause us to limp through Lent, but coming Easter morning, we can stride past the empty tomb into the arms of our Savior, who gives us life now and ever more.