“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” John 10:10
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about life. Not just mere existence, but an abundant life in God’s good creation. It is about restoring a relationship with the God of the Universe. Yet, the most powerful thing about this relationship is that it is not one of equals. It is one of created and Creator, of divine and not-divine.
However, this God does not sit high on a throne, waiting for us lowly creatures to crawl to Him to restore a broken relationship. No, this is a God who constantly seeks out His people and over and over again tries to be in relationship with them, even when they are not faithful to Him.
This is a God who stops at nothing, who sacrificed His own Son on a cross to restore that relationship.
This depiction of God almost seems to run counter to the common ideas of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Ash Wednesday proclaims that we are but dust. Building on this theme, Lent reminds us that we are failures. We fail to live up to the standards that God desires, we fail to maintain a relationship with God. In fact, there is no area of life where we do not fail. Nothing we do will ever be good enough to restore the broken relationship with God; no acts of piety will ever save us.
And so, during Lent, we engage in a yearly fast. Some fast in preparation for their baptism at Easter (the most traditional observance), others use this fast as time of reflection and rededication to God, and others fast out of a sense of obligation that if they do not fast God will somehow not welcome them into His Kingdom.
Yet Lent is not about guilt, it is not about anything we do or do not do. Like all of Christian worship it is about God and the work He has done, and is continuing to do, in Jesus Christ. As Christians, we know that forgiveness from God is nothing we have to earn. It stands as a gift; all we have to do is accept.
Lent is really about taking time to stop and listen to God. To take time out of the busyness of life, to slow down, and hear what God is saying. A time to see how we fail in our relationship with God, not just because we sin, but because we fail to realize how God wants to work in our lives.
So often our prayers revolve around ourselves and what God can do for us: “God help me with this test,” “God, my boss is a pain, please do something to make us work better together,” “God, heal my illness,” or even one of the most common prayers, “God, bless this food which we are about to partake.”
Yet our prayers should really be not about us but about God: “God, how do you want to use me today,” “God, show me what my place is in Your Kingdom,” and probably one of the most profound prayers we could ever pray, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” and then, rather than prattle on about how great God is, simply sit in silence and actually listen.
Ash Wednesday and Lent stand as reminders that we are frail human creatures, dust. Yet we are given life by the God who created the universe. We are given life in Jesus Christ when we deserve death. We are responding to a God who does not just call us out of sin, but a God who calls us into life, an abundant life with Him.