“Boys,” I asked my two sons a few years ago, “what are you giving up for Lent?”
My youngest son quickly pounced. “Broccoli, I’m giving up broccoli for Lent.” He beamed, knowing he had just beaten the system of vegetable requirements at dinner.
His older brother, who is currently studying comedy at Emerson College, had other ideas. Thinking reflectively, he gently lifted his eyes to meet mine. “Dad, I’m giving up all hope for Lent.”
It was at that moment I knew I had a comedian in the works.
After we laughed and I had time to think about his joke, another thought began to settle in my mind. What if he is right? What if the entire reason for Lent is to give up all hope in order to bring us to death?
Conflict. Confession. Suffering. Death.
The 40 days of Lent place Christians on a journey of self-denial. However, the larger lesson of Lent might be we are called to abandon worldly hopes in order to embrace God’s hopes.
Lent’s pathway leads us on the same journey Jesus walked: toward certain despair, where all worldly hope is abandoned. Only death welcomes our arrival.
With each step toward the cross of Christ, we too succumb to the reality that the world is filled with injustice, lies and deceit. We too plead with God, “If there is another way, take this cup from us.”
But the way is clear: Abandonment and death are crucial to what awaits beyond.
“The cross is not the suffering tied to natural existence, but the suffering tied to being Christians. The cross is never simply a matter of suffering, but a matter of suffering and rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ, not for the sake of some other arbitrary behavior or confession,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in “Mediations on the Cross.”
His phrase, “the cross is not the suffering tied to natural existence,” provides clarity to our current predicament and hope for the future.
The Lenten journey is not natural. The actions of self-denial and confession for the purpose of arriving at death do not make natural sense.
However, what lies at the other side of the cross does not make natural sense either: resurrection.
Maybe my son was absolutely right when he quipped, “I’m giving up all hope for Lent.”
Perhaps those calling themselves Jesus-followers need to abandon the hope of this world in order to approach death, knowing that beyond the cross resurrection awaits.
How often do people of faith attempt to work within worldly systems in order to bring about transformation? How often are our dreams and hopes dashed because the system is too powerful, too wealthy and too ingrained?
Maybe we need to let these systems die, so the power of God’s resurrection can emerge from the grave.
We need to let racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia and any other phobia or bigotry that dehumanizes people die.
We need white patriarchal dominance to take its last breath.
We need gross income inequality to shut its eyes and never awaken.
We need the inhumane treatment of others to be buried.
We need the insane cost and prohibitive access to medical care to fade away.
We need the injustice of our judicial systems to cease.
We need injustice to die. Only then can we experience rebirth through resurrection.
Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright offers in his book, “Surprised by Hope,” this observation: “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”
Wright is correct. The Lord ’s Prayer offers the theological foundation for death and resurrection, “Your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Resurrection brings hope for a new reality, but before we can experience it, we must face death. We must walk the Lenten journey, confessing the sins of this world and laying them at the feet of our crucified Lord. Only then will the journey find divine completion.
Far too often, we seek resurrection while trying to avoid death. This is impossible.
So, I am committed to taking my comedic son’s advice to give up all hope this Lent. Then, I hope to experience resurrection.