We all like to be happy. It’s our nature. We naturally avoid things that make us unhappy.
I think that is one reason that the season of Lent is not especially popular. It is a time for personal reflection. A time to examine ourselves, take an inventory of our sinful lives, and be remind of how we fall short of God’s image.
But do we really need that? Do we need this downer? Can we even force ourselves to be sad when Springtime is so close? After all, we’re basically good people. We may not be perfect, but nobody’s perfect and the truth is, we’re a lot better than a lot of people we know. We live good lives and try to be nice to others (mostly). So do we really need Lent? We have God’s promise of forgiveness–our sins have been washed away. So why do we still need this heavy duty guilt trip?
Because without Lent, we have no Easter.
Sure, we can attend Easter service and sing Easter hymns, even hunt for colored eggs and have a big dinner. But without Lent, Easter is without meaning, it’s empty. There’s nothing there but the music, the Easter Lilies, and egg hunts. Our celebration is hollow.
Consider this quote from Mark Twain.
“What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other.”
Think about that for a moment. How would we understand hurt if our whole lives were lived without any pain? How would we understand the joy of togetherness if we have never been apart?
Lutherans call this dichotomy Law and Gospel. In it’s very simplest form, Law is the “thou shalt not…’s”, those rules that no one can keep. Law is that accusing finger that reminds us that our best is never good enough. Law is that which measures us against Christ’s perfect life and finds us wanting. Law is what tells us that we are never good enough to escape the sure punishment of hell and eternal damnation.
Gospel is that news that we can be saved in spite of our sinfulness. Gospel is that good news that Jesus took our punishment upon himself. He died that we might live. The Gospel tells us He ransomed us from our slavery to sin. As St. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “You have been redeemed, at tremendous cost.”
Christ died. Then He let himself experience being cut off from God’s presence. This last part was a fate far worse than the agony of crucifixion. It is what we experience if we are not Children of God.
It is said that ‘Redemption‘ is a word that is taken from the slave market; a slave is purchased by payment of a ransom. Jesus Christ has bought us. We are His. We owe him everything, not the least is a grateful heart.
So Lent is a time to remind ourselves.. A time to remember not only the great price that Jesus paid for our sins, but that we belong to Him.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price.” (1 Cor 6:19-20)
So how are we doing? Are we walking in God’s ways? Are we showing love to one another? Are we living as God would have us live? Of course not, no one can. But are we making an honest effort to do better? To answer that, we need to know where we stand. What are the personal downfalls in our life that we need to improve?
When we examine ourselves honestly, we feel the full conviction of the Law. When we confess our shortcomings, when we ask God to help us set a plan for improvement, then we can truly rejoice at Easter. Not by attending service and singing hymns, but by enjoying the true meaning of the Gospel. We feel the tremendous burden of guilt lifted, of being redeemed. We feel the warmth and joy that comes from a closer walk with God.
David Brugge is a longtime member of Trinity where he has served on the Church Council and for many years as an Elder. He is an author, teacher, and frequent contributor to Trinitymemphis.org. The opinions expressed here are solely his own and as such are not the official opinions of Trinity Lutheran Church, its staff, or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.