Lent – to be sure – is a season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But it is also a time of deep reflection, contrition and wrestling with our fallen human state. Lent begins with ashes and ends with an empty tomb. But before we arrive at the brilliant resurrection, we must first descend to the deep blackness of torture, humiliation, crucifixion and death. Lent surely ends with a glimpse of heaven, but it largely dwells in the gritty, charnel house of earth.
That is why it is so striking to consider what Christ said, how he lived and what he endured during his season of Lent. It is a most curious fact – a testimony to divinity – that the chief victim of Lent’s divine drama is himself the chief consoler of his executioners. Juxtaposed against the shuffling, angling and betrayal by his disciples and the taunting, scourging and crucifixion by his tormentors, is a fatherly concern for the anxieties that plague us all.
Just think…the Christ who knew what awaited him, from his first disclosure of the coming betrayal and crucifixion to his dark night of the soul in the Garden of Gethsemane, spent extraordinary effort to comfort his disciples (and others) about their daily worries. A God with a brutal death sentence – unjustly pronounced by his own children – sought to provide them with redemption, but also a sense of peace. Just consider his words of comfort again and again…
Do not be afraid. (Matthew 28:10)
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. (John 14:1-3)
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14: 27-31)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. (Matthew 6:25-34)
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Striking, isn’t it?
And even on Good Friday when beaten, bloodied and hanging from the cross, Jesus ensures that his mother is cared for (Woman, behold your son…[Son] behold your mother) and even begs forgiveness for those who drove in the nails while hurling insults at him (Father, forgive them, they know not what they do).
You see, when we truly consider Christ’s merciful teachings contrasted with his merciless Passion, we find something startlingly unique to Christianity. No political philosophy, worldview, ideology or faith speaks so delicately to the fears and anxiety of man, while simultaneously offering such profoundly selfless sacrifice. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar articulated this so well in the opening lines of his book, The Christian and Anxiety:
When one surveys even from a distance how often and how openly Sacred Scripture speaks of fear and anxiety, an initial conclusion presents itself: the Word of God is not afraid of fear or anxiety.
This is something uncanny, extraordinary.
Love. Patience. Understanding. Reassurance. And redemption.
Immense cost to Christ. Immense Grace to us.
This is the stuff of Good Friday.
This is the stuff of God.
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