And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
Lent is a journey that ends with resurrection, but by way of the desert and the cross. Anyone who takes it seriously quickly discovers the challenge of entering into this wilderness. It is not a casual shift—we must devote ourselves to it as a matter of the heart. Nor is it a sudden shift—we have to unravel the entangled habits of our bodies, and make ready our preoccupied minds. In these first few days, we have been trying to downshift slowly and thoughtfully from our normal routine into the rhythms of Lent.
There are perhaps a few groups of people at this point: latecomers, early goers, and those who are neither here nor there.
Latecomers: If Lent were a party, you just walked in the door and aren’t quite sure what has already been said and done. Part of you wants to blend in like you know what you are doing, and part of you wonders if you should just go home and try to make it on time next year. Good news for you: The Lent party is a gospel party! The gospel of Jesus does not discriminate against when or how you got here. It only beckons you to come as you are.
What should you do now that you are here? Set aside some time for understanding and prayer. Catch up on the reading, worship Jesus, and ask him to lead you in this journey. Decide on something that you will give up and something that you will take up in order to draw near to God. Do not worry about what you have missed or whether or not you are doing it right. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6: 33-34).
Early Goers: If Lent were a race, you are starting to lose energy. You began with enthusiasm, but you have already forgotten at times what you are supposed to be doing, or you may simply feel defeated by how well everyone else seems to be doing. Good news for you: You are worse than you think, but also far more loved by God than you ever imagined. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, which means you have been set free from “performing Lent”. Indeed, the very thing that Lent beckons us to consider is the death of Jesus, in whom all of our unfaithfulness and shame was condemned once for all, so that we may breathe easy in the company of God’s family.
What should you do if you have already strayed? Get back on course. Repent of making Lent about what you do or don’t do (or what other people do) and run to the cross where “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do, by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Neither Here Nor There: You are neither here (late) nor there (gone). You are running with the pack, fully present at the party. Good news for you: The gospel is deeper and fuller than you ever imagined! “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
This is what Lent is about: joining the company of God’s people to consider Jesus’ suffering and death; denying ourselves and being sustained by God so that we may run straighter and stronger; gaining hope and strength from the faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus. Wherever you are today – behind, astray, on course – fix your eyes on Jesus, our brave frontrunner and generous host.
What have you learned about God and yourself in these first days of Lent?
What areas of fear or pride are hindering you from fully committing to this journey?
How would you articulate your need for God and your longing to know his presence and power more authentically than you do?
O Lord our God, long-suffering and full of compassion: Be present with us as we enter this season in which we recall our Savior’s sufferings and celebrate his triumph. Give us your Holy Spirit, so that as we acknowledge our sins and implore your pardon, we may also have the strength to deny ourselves and be upheld in times of temptation through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.