I really value Lent. I think “love” is the wrong word for it. “Like” is definitely wrong. But there’s something that Lent makes me feel that I think needs to be felt.
I don’t give things up for Lent, except perhaps my Wednesday nights, but I’m content with that. I don’t believe that God’s in the business of creating suffering or asking people to create it for themselves. Rather, I believe God calls us to be awake to the suffering that’s already going on and to do what we can to stop it.
The Lenten journey starts with Ash Wednesday. I think I experience that day differently than a lot of people. I’m under the impression that for some people the day doesn’t mean much; it’s just a motion to go through. For other people, there’s a touch of horror, of fear, of discomfort, all because of the reminder that “to dust you shall return.” That’s not how I feel about it at all. For me, it feels kind of good to be able to name the truth of my mortality in public, and to be around other people naming that same truth about themselves. To dust we shall return, all of us. But not quite yet.
And then, five weeks later, there’s Holy Week. Spiritually, I get so, so much out of Holy Week. There’s so much there. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and is greeted like a king, but not even a week later that same crowd that greets him morphs into a mob yelling, “Crucify him!” This is what it means to be human. To be fickle. To be cowardly. To catch glimpses of the truth only to deny them under pressure. To get caught between what we know is true and what we’re supposed to believe. To get caught up in the crowd.
And then there’s Pilate and Caiaphas and all the rest of them. The authorities. Those working for or cooperating with the empire. Here is another side of being human: the way power corrupts. Here, too, is cowardice and denial of the truth. Here, additionally, is the ability to control—not ultimately, but devastatingly nonetheless.
I won’t claim to understand Holy Week. I don’t know why God would make humans fallible in the first place. Why do we need saving at all? Why are we sinful? Why was Jesus’ death necessary to redeem us of that sin? Surely there was some sort of workaround or loophole.
But I value having a God who knows, intimately and viscerally, what it is to suffer and die. I value having a God who didn’t stay in heaven, safely watching humans duke it out century after century. I value having a God who was born, who experienced being a misunderstood and underestimated adolescent who grew up to be a misunderstood and underestimated adult. I value having a God who chose to compress infinite power into a human body, and an undervalued human body at that—the body of a brown-skinned man who lived under imperial occupation.
This is what we go through to get to Easter. We kill our savior, and he returns to us anyway, more capable than ever of understanding our suffering. We lose our friend, and he comes back to us in the flesh for just long enough to tell us that he’ll always be with us in the Spirit. God suffers. We suffer. It’s real. It’s so, so real. But it’s not the end. It’s not the last word. In the beginning was the Word. In the end, likewise. Amen.
A version of this post previously appeared on the author's private Facebook page.