I love Lent. That probably strikes some as a really weird and perhaps morbid thing to say… but its true. I love it. And here are a few reasons why:
- Because the whole of our faith comes crashing together during this season
- Because Lent calls us to remember our mortality and need for God
- Because we’re reminded that God is the only real Good… he is our very life
- Because of the promise… the SWEET promise… of resurrection
- Did I mention resurrection?
- Exile and return
- The Father’s mad pursuit of us
- The invitation to leave death and dislocation and alienation
AND COME. BACK. HOME.
Whatever else Lent is, it is certainly about that. The Scriptures portray the human story as one both tragic and yet full of promise. In Genesis 3 we were banished from the Garden. In Genesis 4, not long after the inevitable chaos begins to ensue post-banishment, men “begin to call on the name of the Lord.”
The Christian tradition, which flowers out of the fertile soil of the Scriptures, has always maintained that human beings were MADE for God. We were made to love and enjoy and delight in God as our only Good. And the tradition has further maintained that as human beings, we SENSE that we are not “at home”… that something is simply not right with us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it profoundly in his masterful work Ethics when he said that fallen man is “at disunion with his origin”, that is, God. And our disunion drives us into all kinds of foolishness… we try to soothe the ache… when what we really want is God, and only God. He is our Good. Our Father. Our Home.
The great theologian of the early church, Augustine, put our predicament perfectly in two different places. In his Confessions he writes:
You awaken us, O God, to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our souls are restless till they rest in you.
Augustine knew what the Christian tradition has always known… we were made for God, and until our restless souls come alive in him, we’ll simply be groping about for something… ANYTHING… to satisfy us. As he says elsewhere, in his beautiful prayer:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.
But you called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned with longing for your peace.
The tragic irony of our existence is that we search for that which satisfies within all the good things that God has made, and yet because we don’t have the sense enough to turn to the Maker of all good things, the good things themselves taste stale. He longs to be first, and highest in us… and it is for our good that it should be so in us.
In Lent, we remember this. And we come home. We respond to Him who flashes and shines in us to awaken us to his Beauty… we allow that Beauty and Love to tenderize our hearts so that we’re yielded to Him… Him who is our only Good. Our Maker. Our Love. Our God. He will do this in us if we’ll let Him. As the Lord said through the prophet Hosea:
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely (Hos 14:4)
It occurs to me that perhaps the key difference between the Christian and all the rest is simply that the Christian has by the grace of God had the sense enough to recognize the basic “ache” of their soul for God, and then let that recognition issue in a mad dash back home. Not unlike the Prodigal Son.
This Lent, I’m praying for myself… and for our church… and for you… that the good, longing-for-home-eliciting grace of God would drape itself over our hearts, so that we’d return to Him.
Bring us home Lord Jesus.