On the eve of Advent, the first day of the Christian year, we light one candle, a blessed light shining in the darkness, a remembrance of brighter times and longer days. One small flame, lit in defiance of the encircling gloom, a lantern as it were, to light our way as we journey to Bethlehem. Then, on Christmas Eve we greet with myriad candles the one whose light shines in the darkness, the light that darkness cannot overcome, to greet the light that shines in the darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.
With the celebration of Epiphany, the light is shared with the world, and we begin to understand more fully in the ministry of Jesus, what it means when read the words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” Throughout the season we see how, in Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven breaks into the world. People are healed, strangers are welcomed, outsiders are included, sinners discover that God loves them, and the hopeless are given hope. Then, with the coming of the Sunday of the Transfiguration, Jesus shares a vision of what will happen when everything is fulfilled by the Risen Lord. The transfiguration serves as a reminder that even as we face difficulties and our faith is challenged, Jesus not only comes down the mountain with us, but promises that beyond the day of Resurrection, the Kingdom of God will finally and fully be made new.
After the marvelous vision of the Transfiguration of our Lord, with Ash Wednesday we enter the season of Lent. Our mortality is written on our foreheads, with the dust of last year’s palm branches; a sobering reminder of what lies ahead on the calendar and for our lives.
Yet, there is grace to be found in the Lenten season. First, its very name is rooted in “the lengthening of days.” We do not lose the light during this season. In fact, it grows steadily stronger, each day brings us closer to spring and resurrection. Then too, one of the foci of Lent is Baptism, and with it a reminder that every day we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. There isn’t much of anything more graceful than knowing that every negative thing about the past can be put to rest. Our sins, our mistakes, our misguided thoughts and deeds have no hold upon our future. By baptism into Christ, each day is new; each day begins without a single blemish and the future is wide open for us.
Of course, Lent reminds us that there is a cost to such grace; that the free gift of grace we have received cost Jesus everything. When Jesus went to the cross, he was stripped of everything. One friend betrayed him, another denied him. His nation stripped him of citizenship and handed him over to the Romans to be killed, and by them he was tortured, humiliated, and crucified. Grace is not cheap. In Lent we learn yet again, that the cost was born by God’s son, and this is the heart of grace. For such grace cannot be earned or purchased. It is gift, God’s gift in Jesus of Nazareth. In worship during Lent, even as each Sunday remains a celebration of Easter, we will explore the themes that led to Golgotha, but even as we do, grace holds us and doesn’t let go. The wonder of God’s love, so eagerly sung at Christmas, becomes real in the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to the Cross and grave, and from the grave to the Garden where Mary meets the Risen One.
This is the Lenten journey. I invite you to make it. It is not always easy. It is a challenge to look at our lives with honesty and admit the need for grace; admit that we are not as self-sufficient as we pretend to be. It is not however a journey that we make a lone. For as assuredly as Jesus came down the mountain after the Transfiguration, He is still with us, and the promise of continues.
Already, I’m looking forward to that moment when, on Easter morning, the Sun slips over the horizon, and we shout, “The Lord is Risen.” That is the moment the hope in lighting a single Advent candle is realized. Jesus bursts from the Tomb and death darkness is banished by the light of the Risen Christ. For it is in his rising that our own rising is bound, and every promise is realized. Come, O Blessed day. Sun of Righteousness arise. We will sing glad Alleluias again, so let the journey commence!
Yours in Christ,