As noted in a recent post, Christians who observe Lent from Ash Wednesday until Easter use this 40+ day period as a time of, among other things, repentance. It’s a time to humble oneself before God. It’s a time of purification, cleansing oneself from sin.
Some Christians who observe Lent have in recent times expressed concern that it has become a period when Christians spend too much time putting themselves on a guilt trip, overly focusing on their sins, figuratively lashing their bodies, and ushering darkness into their lives. Such excesses, some say, produce separation from God instead of closeness to him.
The thing is: in order to engage in true repentance, there must be a serious acknowledgement of sin, which produces grief, shame, and regret. Realizing our sins and confessing them aren’t joyful experiences. Neither was Jesus’ road to crucifixion, which this season makes us remember and try to spiritually emulate. In Luke 22:52 (NIV), while Jesus was being arrested, he said to the chief priests who had orchestrated his arrest and ultimate crucifixion: “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour — when darkness reigns.” An apt description of the Lenten journey.
All of us would rather speak of joy and peace than darkness and suffering, but Lent, by and large, is about the latter. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts…Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:8-10)
Repentance, with its darkness and mourning, leads to forgiveness and salvation. It leads to closeness with God. It leads to resurrection — to Easter.