It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s sad. Weeknight services in the middle of February only get so cheerful.
So a year hasn’t gone by where at least one person has asked me privately, “Pastor, why do we have to be so depressing during Lent? The hymns are so sad.” If we’re going to be honest, even strictly liturgically minded pastors seem to lean on the emotional side during Lent. We dim the lights. We make sure we’re extra descriptive about the blood and the suffering of the passion. We even start out the season by putting ashes on your forehead and telling you that you’re going to die. And yes, all the hymns are gloomy. It’s even worse when we’re all giving up things that we love and depriving ourselves of caffeine, chocolate, and beer.
I understand the accusation. Lent is a somber season. But here’s the thing, nobody has ever been saved by being depressed. Nobody’s ever cried their way to heaven, and giving up coffee for 40 days won’t carry you to the resurrection. Lent isn’t about being sad, just honest.
Lent is a call to be honest about what we try to ignore, or what we’ve just adjusted to and call normal. Lent is a confrontation with everything we’d rather avoid. Lent dares to wrestle with a God who would allow us to live in such a dark, broken world. Lent makes us look at that last great enemy we’d rather not make eye contact with. Death. Lent speaks bluntly about everything we try to excuse, and everything we’ve grown numb to. Sin. This season makes the church more than just a chance to escape for an hour a week. It drags in everything you’re running from and talks about it.
All of the piety of the season, the music, the liturgy, the fasting, they acknowledge the reality of the collapse of hope in this world, the destruction hiding in all of our secrets we’re so rightly ashamed of, and the brokenness of humanity that just seems to be spiraling downward.
All that stuff sounds depressing, but Lent isn’t about you. Lent is about Jesus, for you. The season isn’t a chance to wallow in self-pity. It’s about a God whose love for you is so overpowering and reckless that He would follow you down into the pit. He would take human flesh for you on Christmas to stand between you and everything you’re afraid to acknowledge. This Jesus collects every single hurt and every last sin, every sleepless night and every reason things are broken. He carries them for us. He is completely swallowed up by them, and our last great enemy death levels Him. Lent is about a God who would dare to die for sinners. Lent is about the cross.
Something happened on that cross. All of those sins that we’re so ashamed of were hung on Jesus. All of the pains that leave us laying in the fetal position were born by Him. All of the wrath of a God who hates seeing what we’ve done to this place is directed against Jesus. He dies so this war that has surrounded us since we were brought into this mess of a world could finally be called finished. Your sins are forgiven. Your pains are not your own. Your death is defeated. Your Jesus died for you upon a cross.
The truth is, if all we’ve done in lent is make you sad, we’ve failed. Lent is about the cross. It’s a horrible, beautiful sight. It looks like hope. It looks like salvation. It looks like love. Lent is about pointing a broken people toward the truth of the cross. Not just a cross waved in front of your face until you feel empathy towards a guy up there, but the cross held before our eyes that points us to something stronger than every enemy we face. This cross is love that takes action and shape. This cross actually saves us.