Sparkle In The Dark

CHALKBOARD- GOD SO LOVED THE WORLDLent is a very odd season. Every year I say this and every year it still is. Lent is full of impositions, contradictions, and uncomfortable places. What to give up? Why to give it up? I’ve heard some very heated arguments in the past few years about whether or not it was “right” to give up something for Lent. Or if it was even “Lutheran” to give up anything. Or if it is more faithful to add something than give up something.

Lent isn’t a short season either; it lasts 40 days. 40 is a symbolic number in scripture and there are plenty of places we can find references to it.  There is rain for 40 days and nights for Noah and his family in the floating Zoo. There are 40 long years of wandering around in the wilderness for the children of Israel before they finally make it to the promised land to which God has been leading them. There are 40 days in the desert for Jesus culminating in the Devil vs. Savior Temptation Throwdown. Symbolically, 40 is a number that means ‘as long as it takes’, kind of like when we say “that’ll take all day!” or “this just never ends!” Well, it might actually take all day or whatever it is might never end, but ultimately it is a metaphor for “as much time as is needed”.  So in truth we walk our Lenten journey of preparation not merely for 40 weekdays but rather for as long as it takes.

We begin this season with a strange contradiction. Lent is a word that means spring, but the first day of Lent is marked with something very un-springlike. We begin with Ash Wednesday. On that day we use something that is, literally and symbolically, the very opposite of blooming daffodils: ashes. There is a beauty to the Ash Wednesday crosses themselves—looking around and seeing the visible cross with which we were marked at baptism is beautiful and moving. But their gritty, dirty feel is the vivid reminder of sin, death, brokenness, destruction and the ultimate annihilation that the world pronounces over us and it can sometimes overshadow the very grace with which these crosses mark us.

One of my favorite poems by T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men, ends with these lines:

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends.

Not with a bang but a whimper.

This very melancholy poem, written in 1925, is a good example of many writings of this period of time right after WWI. It was an era when humanity witnessed for the first time on a global scale our capability for destruction and death; our ability to be remarkably and profoundly inhuman with one another. It was as if the whole world was marked with ash, and war and evil had the last word. The final pronouncement: life obliterated. Darkness wins.

It is in this sort of dark place that we begin this journey, a poignant reminder of our inescapable humanness, our mortality, our brokenness. This is the way the world ends.

Or is it? …..

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