Lent prepares for the closed tomb not the empty tomb
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Friday, February 19th: Psalm 25:1-10; Daniel 9:15-25a; and 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Lent is a powerfully spiritual season, and the Fridays within Lent are even more so. These are the days when Christians are asked to look more stringently at the cross. I don’t know if I should even share this because it may be misconstrued, but Lent is more spiritually meaningful to me than is Easter. Gods always triumph, but a “crucified God,” in the words of Jurgen Moltmann, is so astoundingly peculiar that the phrase would be blasphemous if it were not Jesus’ actual story.
Easter’s triumph is more than miracle. It is God’s greatest mystery. It is a joyous, powerful wonder. It is God’s reversal of the human judgment against Jesus; it is God’s attestation of Jesus’ life, ministry and message; and it is the first fruits of our promised resurrection. But we can’t sanitize the cross by rushing to the empty tomb. We shouldn’t soften Lent, and especially Lenten Fridays, by treating it and them as merely precursors to Easter. Lent is not a season to prepare for Easter. Lent is a time to prepare to approach the cross and the closed tomb that holds Jesus’ sacred and scarred body.
Jesus’ anguish leading up to Golgotha is real. His physical, psychological and spiritual torture is real. The abandonment of “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34) is real. The actuality of His death is real. Jesus endures these trials authentically. They are not the treacly theatrical death scene prior to the glories of resurrection.
Lent, and especially Lenten Fridays, ask us to be with the suffering, dying Saviour. Lent and Lenten Fridays confront us with the unbroken dedication of Christ who will not sacrifice His gospel of non-violence even as He must sacrifice His body to human violence. The cross should be understood by looking backwards. It is the culmination and final proclamation of Jesus’ lived gospel. The cross loses its authenticity by prematurely looking forward to Easter morn. The cross and Easter come together by again looking backwards, but from the perspective of the resurrection – not until then.
This harsh Lenten isolation not only protects, it honours, Jesus’ full human nature and the connection it makes between Jesus and all of us, a connection that is the primary purpose of Jesus’ Incarnation, which is God’s inbreaking into our world as us. Whoever writes 2 Timothy’s “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus …” gives voice to this sacred connection, which is a connection available to all people through faith, through faith in a Saviour so like us and simultaneously so much more than us that it is not blasphemy to praise Jesus as our “crucified God.”
May we use these few weeks of Lent and especially Lenten Fridays to foster an awakened appreciation for the presence of God and Christ Jesus in our lives, a presence for which Jesus paid the supreme sacrifice of His life.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.macucc.org/lectionary.
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