Lent is kind of a big deal in our house. Sometimes I think Brett’s the only Baptist dad making his two and four year old say Lenten prayers. For Brett and me, Lent is like Christmas-- we spend time thinking about what we’re going to lay down and what we’re going to pick up. We think to past years‘ Lenten seasons, laughing about failed attempts to give up soda or pick up prayerful rock climbing. We need to think about Lent because the journey toward the cross is a serious one-- and we’re right to allow it to house great anticipation. Moving toward the cross and the resurrection is a move toward the core of who we are. It‘s as if we’re cutting through the external story of discipleship to get to the real authentic truth of life. There is something about this journey to the cross, this movement toward the final days of Jesus, his crucifixion, burial and resurrection that break us wide open. We are once again exposed to the violence against truth. We are laid bare before the grace of salvation and love of God. It’s as if the journey through Lent rips off our callouses and allows us to feel the raw, unnerving, abrasive life and ministry of Jesus, the Son of God.
We see the gospel and the kingdom again.
During the rest of the year, we forget. We put back on the thick skin and hardly feel the throbbing impact of the gospel story. We rebuild resistance to the reckless, wasteful love of God that rescues us from darkness and plants us in light.
But what a story. And Lent is that time to hear it again.
Without Lent, we become consumers of Easter. We go straight into gorging ourselves on the lilies and the purple cloth on the cross and the empty tomb.
We consume instead of being consumed. We take instead of allowing ourselves to be taken in by plunging mercy.
When Ellia was almost two, we decided she was ready for her very first Easter egg hunt outside of our home on Baylor’s campus. She held her Easter basket triumphantly and headed toward the grassy space covered in brightly colored plastic eggs. When a giant Easter bunny gave the signal, a hundred kids ran in different directions, throwing elbows and pulling hair in order to get as many eggs as possible.
Ellia is not like me. She’s a lover, not a fighter, so I wanted her to have a fair chance at this whole thing. I encouraged her to grab eggs, guarding them with my shoes, hiding them from the other children, clotheslining the more aggressive boys.
But, Ellia walked and watched, as if her job were to find Waldo instead of land some candy. At last, she reached down, picked up one pink egg and put it in her basket. Then, she turned for home.
“Let’s get more, Ellia!” I cried, dragging her to some eggs I’d all but buried for her.
She lifted her head deliberately and said, “No. I just need one.”
I was frustrated with her lack of greed. I was unnerved at her steady purpose. I couldn’t believe I had a child who didn’t care about winning and beating the crawling babies to the next plastic egg.
Ellia understood the journey.
Lent helps us understand the journey and move purposefully toward scenes of Easter. Lent helps us move deliberately, causing us to observe instead of consume. We enter Easter not as greedy church-users but as grateful recipients of infinite grace.
If we run too fast to Easter, we elbow the real story out of the way. We clothesline the marrow of the resurrection. We forget that the story is fresh. Every Lent offers the gift of the cross in a way we’ve never seen it. Each year, we’re drawn further into the servanthood, the love, the life of Jesus. And we’ll miss it all if we race to gorge ourselves on Easter. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with feasting on the resurrection, but it is a different experience if you haven’t thought about life before the empty tomb.
The difference is in the way that you carry your basket; the way you buy into the greed that dominates even the holiest of seasons. Lent invites us to pay attention and see Jesus as the fulfillment of the mission of God. And as we observe, we can be present instead of self-absorbed and worshipful instead of greedy. And we can pick up the one thing and satisfactorily carry it home recognizing the treasure we have in our basket.