Coop's Column - As Alert As Possible
Lent is a six-week season in the Christian year that starts with Ash Wednesday, reaches peak intensity and agony on Good Friday and finishes with a crescendo of joy and triumph at Easter.
“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered: ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” (John 6.28-29)
Consider these weighty and important words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose years of unwavering devotion to his Lord and whose untiring resistance against evil Nazi oppression eventually cost him his life:
“The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, ‘Where is your salvation, your righteousness?’ he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness.”
Then Bonhoeffer added: “[The Christian] is as alert as possible to this Word.”
Staying as alert as possible to Jesus: That, in a nutshell, is the entire purpose of the season of Lent.
Three Central Claims
Lent is a six-week season in the Christian year that starts with Ash Wednesday, reaches peak intensity and agony on Good Friday and finishes with a crescendo of joy and triumph at Easter. To begin their annual journey toward the Cross, Christian pilgrims humbly bow to permit ashes to be placed on their foreheads. This action and these ashes are external signs to themselves and also wordless witnesses to others about what they believe. By this act and by receiving these ashes Christians aim to make clear three central claims:
- Their days on earth are brief and swiftly diminishing. It’s “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” for all human beings—and thus for them too. No matter a person’s station or position in life, soon she or he shall die. The Italian proverb is blunt: “After the game is done, both the king and the pawn wind up in the same box.”
- They are aware that they have done injury and wrong toward God and others; they are penitent about what they have done (or about what they should have done, but didn’t); they are looking to Jesus’ death to bring them pardon and forgiveness. In the Old Testament ashes were an external expression of one’s internal remorse and penitence, and of a plea for mercy.
- They must pay close attention in order to hear well the voice of Jesus who is calling them by name and who longs to tell them, clearly and unmistakably, of his deep and abiding affection for them. They acknowledge that they need to cup their ears carefully in order to hear his endearing voice and his enduring message: “I love you, and have sacrificed my very life for you.” They admit, too, that they need practice in learning to tell him more often—and more ardently—of their own affection for him, and of their desire and intent to follow him as their Lord.
The goal of Lent is to remember. Yes, to re-member—literally, to “member again,” to hold together. Recall that the Biblical opposite of “to remember” is not “to forget.” It is “to dis-member”—to become shredded and torn to pieces, to be cut off and ripped away from the certain knowledge and clear conviction that the person who belongs to Christ is thereby part of a greater story and a larger purpose. To become dismembered spiritually is to lose touch with and to fail to keep in mind that single and all-important important truth which, amid the helter-skelter of life’s dizzying and destructive forces, alone can keep one from falling apart and flying to pieces: the deep-down joy of knowing that one belongs to God through Jesus Christ.
So the return of Lent this year summons every follower of Jesus and the entire fellowship of the church to important work. Lent calls believers, personally and corporately, again to place their Savior and Lord where he properly belongs—at the center of their life and as its foundation. It beckons them to “do the work which God requires” (John 6.28) and which alone brings God delight—namely, to “believe in the One he has sent.” (6.29)
Lent bids believers to make their way, yet again, toward Gethsemane and Golgotha and when they arrive there, not to depart too quickly or casually to hurry on by. For it is there that their Savior and Lord suffered and died—for them. It is there that heaven’s greatest treasure, the Son of God himself, was willing to become dismembered so that they could become whole again.
God forbid that any of us ever should ever approach Gethsemane and Golgotha—or make our 40-day Lenten journey toward them—with dry eyes and calloused hearts.
Jesus Christ is more a person to be loved and adored than a doctrine to be understood and discussed. May we during this Lenten season seek to “be as alert as possible” to Jesus, as Bonhoeffer encourages. With appropriate wonder may we survey our Lord’s Cross, sing him fitting praise, and offer him our hearts’ due devotion.
Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine,
May Jesus Christ be praised.
Alike at work or prayer to Jesus I repair,
May Jesus Christ be praised.
“In life and in death keep thyself near Jesus, and entrust thyself to his fidelity, who alone can keep thee when all others fail.” ~ Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ