Ash Wednesday through to Holy Saturday, forty days (plus a few Sundays) adds up to a liturgical season we call “Lent.” For those of us on the ‘non-Catholic’ side of the Christian religious spectrum, we find this season ‘awkward’, not quite knowing what to do with it. Are we supposed to be sad, or sorry, or guilty? Should we deprive ourselves of something? Ought we to ponder the “Passion of the Christ”? What should we do? Anything? Nothing?
At its best, regardless of what you “do”, Lent can be a time of focus, attentiveness, worthwhile introspection and reflection, but the question I find myself asking is ‘focus on what?’ reflection on what? This is where it gets awkward for me as a Christian in a dominant (North American) religious culture that expects me to devote my Lenten spiritual energies to ‘pondering the passion’ – the death of Christ, presumably “for my sins.” Except that I don’t. I don’t believe in the ‘substitutionary atonement’, long words which mean the belief that God used Jesus as a deliberate sacrifice to atone (make up for) my sins and the sins of every human, to save us from fiery hell by putting his Son through it instead. There, I said it. In print. And in so doing, stand alongside many other Christians, followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, disciples of the Dream of God, for whom Lent becomes awkward because we are desperately seeking a way, swimming against the tide, to mark the Lenten season with focus, attention, reflection and action based in the living Gospel of a Risen Christ.
Such attention necessarily takes us, eventually, and awkwardly, to the foot of the cross. Jesus was crucified, he did die, he was buried in a tomb. Attention given to such horror does indeed point to human wickedness, and human complicity with evil in every generation including our own. But my Lent is also a preparation for Easter, not just Good Friday, and it is upon Easter that my deepest faith and hope in God rests; in God’s capacity to draw life from the tomb of death, to rebirth “goodness in the land of the living” (Ps 27), to raise Jesus, and with him, humanity, from its deepest pit of agony to new life. That holy mystery is going to take all my focus and attention this Lent.