I love Christmas and Easter. They’re my two favorite times of year. However, I will admit Christmas edges out Easter in certain regards. This is in part because Christmas gets a more pronounced lead up. Now don’t get me wrong, the lead up Christmas gets in the world is usually more about shopping than Advent. Nevertheless, you always know when Christmas time is upon us.
Easter on the other hand, well, it’s not the same show dog. I’d like to think (correct me if I’m wrong) that the extent of Easter in the stores is seeing Easter baskets, eggs, and peeps on the shelves. There aren’t the same elaborate decorations, displays, or sale campaigns, save for the occasional pictures with the Easter bunny. Even in the religious realm, I have never heard anyone say “Yes, Lent is here! I’m so excited!” There are many who take Lent as a time for spiritual renewal. Yet, I more often encounter alpha/omega people: we like Ash Wednesday at the beginning and Holy Week at the end. Call me when Palm Sunday gets here (if that). I include myself in this category. I’m reminded its Lent in the busyness of life usually when I remember it’s a meatless Friday or I forgot to keep up with my Lenten penance/addition.
But the fact is that great Holy Days like Christmas and Easter are ALL about the lead up. It’s about the journey. We’ll never be able to savor and live out the message of the big days if we don’t contemplate the little ones. We each do it in our own ways, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. But we need to do it. Lent is a gift, not a burden. It is a time to get excited about, not just “get through”. So regardless of whether Lent has been an intentional and spiritually renewing time, or you find yourself only realizing Holy Week is not too far away, let’s take stock of the journey.
If we ever need a reason to believe that Lent is a time for excitement, look to the Gospels. On the first Sunday of Lent (Mk.1:12-15) we find Mark painting a quick picture of Jesus going off into the dessert. He is tested, He is tried, He is prepared. Why? Because “The Spirit drove [Him] out” there (Mk 1:12). Then watch out! After Jesus was moved by the Spirit we’ve been through three weeks of nonstop action.
On the second Sunday of Lent (Mk.9:2-10), Jesus is transfigured, His garments becoming dazzling white and gold (or is it blue and black? Sorry I had to). Elijah and Moses testify to Jesus’ messianic identity, the apostles are confused, and we are reminded again of God’s willingness to be present with us and wrap us in His glory.
On the third Sunday of Lent it gets personal (Jn.2:13-25),. Jesus finds the temple a den of thieves, makes a whip from cord, turns over tables, and cleans house. There’s no way to sugarcoat this; Jesus is angry (a perfectly normal emotion mind you). The apostles quote psalm 69 to describe the scene. I prefer Jesus’ own words in Luke 12:49: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” The point: Jesus calls us to renewal and conversion. Turn the tables in your own life. Clean the house of your heart. Make it “My Father’s House”. He accentuates this, pointing to the temple of His own body that will undergo the transformation of death to life.
He was set on fire by the Spirit in the dessert, now it’s our turn.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent the Gospels gave to me, sight and hypocrisy (Jn.9:1-41). Jesus heals the blind beggar, the Pharisees don’t accept it, and the situation turns into an episode of Maury. More effort is spent by the Pharisees to discredit the beggar, even his parents don’t want to speak for him. And what is Jesus doing during all this? Just being who He is: the Light of the world. He speaks to us through the Scriptures and asks us: what is keeping you from seeing My Light? How can I heal you? Will you let me? And when He does, will we be okay with how he does it?
Finally, let’s gander at the fifth Sunday of Lent (Jn.12:20-33). We’re presented with prefigurements of Jesus’ passion. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…it produces much fruit.” (Jn. 12:24). But here’s the catch, Jesus requires the same of each of us. Can we enter Holy Week not as a bystander but walking with Him? Will we recline at table, receive the kiss in the garden, stand before Pilate, carry the cross, and take the final blow?
There’s a lot that has and will happen before Easter. We will rise, but first we must drink of the chalice that Jesus drank. We can do it. I’ll die with you so we can rise together.