If you watched the halftime show for Super Bowl 50, you saw over-the-top, blindingly bright, gargantuanly enormous stages, music, lights, pyrotechnics and performers. The production cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions. And those who attended the game paid thousands of dollars per ticket.
Excess is normal in our world. We’re used to it.
On the other hand, the season of Lent runs against the grain of our excessive world. It’s silently radical. It’s quietly countercultural.
Rather than reveling loudly in our riches, Lent helps us remember we are poor in spirit. We are not righteous. We need help. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus, in Matthew 5:3.
How does the season of Lent remind us of our poverty of spirit?
It starts with Ash Wednesday. Unlike the blinding, deafening excess to which we are accustomed, the Ash Wednesday service leads us into a quiet, dimly-lit sanctuary. The Scriptures plainly testify to our depravity. Crooked, dead and twisted branches replace the typically bright floral arrangements, reminding us that crooked sin leads to death. We confess the frequent ugliness of our thoughts, words and deeds. We remember that no one is righteous, not even one of us. And as a cross of dark ashes paints our foreheads, the room resounds with some of the most important words we will hear all year: “Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.”
Why are these words important? Because they remind us we are mortal. We are not God. We are not holy, not righteous as he is. We are full of faults, and he is faultless. But most important of all, these echoed declarations that we are dust remind us to mourn our human sin so that on Good Friday, we see the glory of the Cross of Christ.
40 Days of Lent
As we exit the Ash Wednesday service, we enter this 40-day season of Lent, which ends with Easter. It’s a season to lay aside excess. To fast from comforts. To see how our appetites, desires and affections have been for things other than God. And to repent. To turn from these misplaced affections, and ask our Lord to restore our affections to him.
So we fast. From food. From entertainment. From media. From vices. From gossip. From greed. From gluttony. We fast from habitual spiritual off-roading. And as we lay aside these wants, we pray: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51.10
So church, let us enter this silently radical, quietly countercultural 40 days:
“You are invited to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
- Book of Common Prayer, p265
Note: The 40 days of Lent do not include the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
~ The Rev. Eric Bolash