Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
The whole concept of the Christian liturgical calendar is that we get to re-live the life of Christ as it is presented in the Bible over the course of a very few short months. We not only study his teachings and read his stories, but we find ways to act those stories out and to live the life of Christ until it becomes our own.
The Gospel stories demonstrate a strong movement in Jesus’ ministry toward Jerusalem and his final showdown with the spiritual, political, and religious forces of his day, culminating in his crucifixion. The Gospels read like a landslide, with all the force of their parables and prophecies thrumming downhill to Golgotha.
During Lent, we ought to be feeling this sense of momentum carrying us to the cross. We ought to be preparing to re-enter the Passion by imagining ourselves in the story of the Gospels.
Putting ourselves into the Gospel stories, knowing what we know now, isn’t it hard to imagine that the disciples could have missed the significance of everything that was coming? How did they not better appreciate the Transfiguration? How did they not understand the prophecy about rebuilding the temple in three days? How did they not seize Judas at the last supper, after he heard the accusation of Christ and fled to the Pharisees? How could they fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane before Christ’s arrest, then flee, then fail to appear boldly at the crucifixion?
Why weren’t they better prepared?
This is the question Christ is asking us now: why aren’t you better prepared for my coming? For my passion? For my resurrection? For my kingdom? For my new creation?
We have all the benefits of history and hindsight to help us understand who Jesus was and what he did, and yet we still often make the mistake of the disciples, napping through life. During Lent, however, we observe the momentum of the Christian story sliding towards climax. We prepare our hearts for the full significance of Christ’s sacrificial atoning death, his descent into Hell, and his resurrection into new life.
We can’t prepare for all those things in the past, but we can prepare for them in the present-future. We can prepare for Easter, to once again feel the sting of sin and its sweet removal. We can prepare for the times which require us to descend into our own private Hells, confident that we will come out the other side. We can prepare for the resurrection of Christ as he brings us new life, new hope, and new dreams. And we can prepare for the new creation, in which Christ comes back into the world, reuniting Heaven and earth in a new way.
We prepare for all of this in our hearts and thoughts, with our attitudes and actions. Right thinking. Right living. The old words for those were orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
When I was growing up, Catholic spirituality was terribly misconstrued. I thought it was almost cultic. I’m not sure anyone taught me to think that way; I had somehow identified all their liturgy and ceremony with old Conan movies and lifeless customs and rituals.
But now when I think about it, I’m struck by how little I ever really did to prepare for Easter. Catholics spent forty days in self-denial, prayer, repentance, and preparation while I usually never thought about Easter until the week prior, when there was usually some weird exercise involving palm branches and a half-hearted, lukewarm extrava-hosanna.
I realize now I’ve spent much of my life under-preparing for and under-appreciating Easter. I realize now I’ve cheapened much of the Gospel story and robbed it of its momentum. I realize now that I’ve often been a sleeping disciple, unaware of what’s coming, and uncaring as to its larger significance.
I want that to change, with Lent, and with all aspects of my life before God. I want to live in the story, treading water in two time zones. I want to live in the story then, feeling the things they felt. And I want to live in the story now–without shame or a sense of failure, but with a renewed confidence that Christ’s death was part of the plan (or that it was the whole plan, really). Because of what’s about to happen I can live free from all the garbage into which I have previously been bonded. I can work toward and anticipate the new creation. I can live as God’s shadow, working at building His church and healing His world. I can know the power of the resurrection and feel the Spirit preserve me through the decay of this life, bringing new vitality into a culture of death instead.
For my part, I prepare through contemplation, through reading, and through holy action. Because I know Easter is just around the corner I spend a little time each day thinking about what it meant for Christ to go willingly to the cross. There’s a lot to think about there, and a lot to consider when you really put your mind to it. And the more I think about it, the more incredible it becomes. I can hardly sacrifice my television preferences with my family. Christ gave his life and gave it gladly. Reading helps me deepen my appreciation of his sacrifice. I read the Bible, but also the writings of certain theologians and mystics. They stretch my imagination – sometimes providing new information, but mostly just treating the information I already know in a fresh way. But thinking and studying aren’t really good preparation all on their own, and so I try and do something with what I’ve contemplated and what I’ve learned. Sometimes I do something small, like share my thoughts with a friend or blog them. Sometimes I try and do something dramatic, like try and find a way to reenact the passion, or reconstruct some similar condition. But I always try and do something. I’ll try, for example, and go willingly into a meeting I’d rather ignore. It seems a small imitation, but it’s something. And for me to prepare best I’ve got to act out what I’m thinking through.
I guess, at the core, that’s what Lent is: a chance to prepare for the event that changes everything, and a chance to be involved in that event as it happens again.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.