I’ve been thinking a lot about sin, repentance, and temptation in preparation for Lent. When people gathered in the small hospital chapel for the Ash Wednesday service, it would do no good to point out their sinful state or their need for forgiveness. People in an psychiatric hospital know this on a level that most people do not. I had to be very careful how I approached this season of penitence.
I had heard lots of questions about what to give up for Lent. None who gathered in this little sanctuary needed to give up anything more than they had already lost. What they needed to let go of was the internal burdens they carry that keep them in the shadows. We each had a stone that I’d placed on the seats before worship. Before receiving ashes, I invited everyone to name the deep burden, the thing they really want to let go of during this season to make room for the new life of Easter. I heard some half-whispered words of shame, selfishness, anger, anxiety, worthlessness and others as each stone was set before the cross on the altar. Sacrifice took on a new meaning for me in this moment.
The idea of giving up the deeper burdens for Lent appeals to me and it ties right into temptation. We are tempted by the things that solve a problem for us, cover over an unspoken sin, perhaps. During my adolescent years when Lent came around I tried to give up the eating disorder that plagued me. It never worked the way I wanted it to. If I had worked to give up the feelings of worthlessness and fear I had, I might have had more success but
I was too focused on the scale and calories to acknowledge the real problems driving the eating disorder. Food and weight lost the power to tempt me when I made peace with those inner demons years later.
Sure, if you want to give up something in order to spend time in service to Christ, I’m all for that. Let’s not take the easy route out and give up candy or cake or French Fries or Facebook because it’s relatively easy and ultimately isn’t much of a sacrifice. Lent is not meant to be a diet plan or time management corrective; it is more than that. We are supposed to experience the discomfort of sacrifice. Challenging those negative voices in our heads, giving up those self-destructive ways can be a painful sacrifice but one that will lead to new life in Christ. And who better to ask to lift those burdens from us than the one who gave his life so that we might fully live?
As I drew cross after ashy cross on foreheads, the words I spoke were, “Remember that you are a child of God and that through all darkness and sin, you are loved.” Whatever demons or temptations we face this Lenten season, may we all know the truth of these words.
RCL – Year A – First Sunday in Lent – March 9, 2014
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7