Bitter but Sweet

Today is Ash Wednesday. Traditionally we gather together, sing hymns, hear the Scripture read over us, and reflect during communion at Christ’s table. At least that’s how we’ve entered the Lenten season in the past. But since the plague of 2020, what we’re used to and what we get seem separated by a frustrating chasm of forced-change. Today’s cruel oppressor is the icy-clawed monster of a winter storm. One layer of that white and clear finish has already been applied to our community and another is on the way to finish the job of making our houses and woods look like a Christmas postcard – without the wreaths, bows, and lights. (Unless you’re like us and think Christmas decorations should come down by the end of February!)

But the roads are iced over and travel is inadvisable and limited when you have a minivan and not a four wheel drive pickup (and maybe even then). So we have canceled the service along with a multitude of brothers and sisters across the area. It’s disappointing to be so frequently disappointed by the cancelation of many cherished things over the past year. We’ve been deprived of so many tangible reminders of our hope: people we love, traditions we cherish, and even the way we do communion! Those prepackaged kits are the difference between taco bell and Rafferty’s steak by way of depicting the body and blood of Jesus!

But as we await the onslaught of snow and ice that will soon fall from heaven, I can’t help but wonder if this sort of day isn’t more true to the Lenten season than having everything the way you want it. I mean, most observers of Lent deprive themselves from some usual treat, food, or practice in order to better identify with the sufferings of Christ. In the garden, for example, did Christ have his heavenly throne? Did he have angels and saints adoring him? Did he have all of his enemies subdued under his feet? No, he had the unimaginable grief of suffering for my sins and yours weighing down on his heart like layers of deep snow and ice.

For the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, we forcefully give up familiarity to begin identifying with the Man of Sorrows. He took the bitter cup of the wrath of God and drank it up. We brace for potential power outages and extreme cold. He braced for the tearing of his flesh from the whips. We have had to alter our way of life. He lost his completely.

Now just imagine the depressing world it would be if ours was like Narnia under the White Witch’s reign: always winter and never Christmas. That is to say – what if Lent was all there was – if the passion week was all there was? Too many people live that way already unaware – “Nothing really matters any more.” Oh but it does! Even the snow brightens the drear of winter! And even a fire can be built to huddle the family around if the power goes out!

Resurrection is the brightness of the snow. Resurrection is the fire that warms. Resurrection is what makes Lent far more than a depressing drama put on by those of us who cross their foreheads with that strange ash mark. Today may be bitter to you in many ways: bitter cold, bitter disappointed, or bitter with health concerns… but resurrection redeems the whole of it! God said of the devastating locust swarm in Joel’s day, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).” Is it a stretch to think that God equally says, “I will restore to you the days the pandemic, turmoil, and winter storms take away?” Christ’s resurrection tells me it’s not a stretch – it’s a promise.