The Joy of lent

David Ruis, Mar 8, 2023, 8:10 PM
David Ruis National Director

I have been struck with a perspective this lent season that I really haven't pondered before.

Much of my focus during this time in years past has been that of personal devotion, realignment and attention to that which is potentially hindering my love for Christ. Giving up the temporal to gain the eternal. Restraining the flesh in order to rejuvenate the spirit. But this year I have been captivated by what motivated Jesus to walk that long, hard, arduous journey to the Cross. What gave Him the capacity to take each step toward Easter. Though He wavered and wrestled in the Garden, he kept one foot in front of the other. Silent in front of His accusers, mocked and reviled, he kept His gaze upward and forward until His final gasp, "it is finished."

Jesus journeyed, steeped in a deep conviction that He was doing the will of the Father, yet His path to the Cross was not a quest with the end game simply being His own spiritual formation or personal growth. Though anchored to a deep love for His Father, there was something else enmeshed in that loving obedience that compelled Him forward. The writer of Hebrews would call it "the joy set before Him" in Hebrews 12:2.

Jesus' vision had been captured by something so compelling. So real. So beautiful. It not only sustained Him in obedience and faithfulness, but it gave Him the fortitude to "scorn the shame" of the cross (another insight from Hebrews 12:2) and settle into His place at the right hand of the Father. He invites us to follow Him right into the very heart of this kingdom adventure. This eternal path. The Jesus Way.

If we take just one step back from here in the Hebrews text to verse one of chapter twelve, we see that we are encouraged to live our lives of faith with the same type of joyful abandon that Jesus models for us in His journey to the Cross. Surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" we are called to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus."

What a fresh way to understand the essence of this lenten season.

Now, in the slipstream of Jesus, cheered on by those who have gone before, we follow in the Way that he has "pioneered and perfected" (Hebrews 12:2). We can begin to see the joy that compelled Jesus forward. We can begin to see what's ahead. Where this is all going.

We're all going home.

Jesus. You. Me. All those that have gone before.

We're all going home.

Looking at Hebrews 11 with the hindsight Hebrews 12 affords us, we see that the joy ahead is "a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:10). We all are longing for "a better country - a heavenly one. A place where God is not ashamed to be called our God. A place prepared for us." (Hebrews 11:16). No more sorrow. No more pain. All tears wiped dry. Together in peace and harmony. The leopard lies with the lamb, the righteous dine, and all creation celebrates the Creator.

Jesus did give us a heads up. "Don't let your hearts be troubled", He said. "Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Fathers house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you." (John 14:1)

We're all going home.

The lean. The reach. The goal. Is something so much beyond "myself" and the world I can create around me. Jesus is making all things new. We can let go. We can live. We can dream. We can love. We can join Him in this Kingdom calling and set our sights on that which is eternal.

For we will dwell with Him. We will dwell with each other. We are going home. Step by step. Trial by trial. Taking up our cross daily, we are ever being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. Sojourners in a land not our own, tent dwellers who long for our permanent residence in a Kingdom that is not of this world. (Hebrews 11:8-10) And we say, "whosoever will, may come!"

Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing for joy. Let the heavens display the glory of our God. Let the elders throw their crowns down and the angels shine bright with their undying worship of the Lamb. Let the groaning creation witness the emergence of the children of God. The peacemakers. The liberators. The healers. The prophets and priests. Coming in the name of the Lord and proclaiming his freedom and hope to the nations. We celebrate the ascended King Jesus, leading the captives in his train liberally distributing gifts to humanity (Ephesians 4:8). His Kingdom come and coming. A new heaven and a new earth on the way.

We're all going home.

"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect." (Hebrews 12:22-23)

As much as my personal formation and love for God is core to who I am, I am "nothing" without being formed into the fullness of love as it finds its expression in love for neighbour and the generous invitation for all to join us in our eternal quest. It is by our love for each other that the watching world will know that we follow Jesus as we extend the invitation for all to join us. Our fasting, our lenting, is unto prayer and engagement that embraces the other. To not only invite them along on our journey home, but to fast from some of my own pleasures in order to align my life in such a way that others may actually gain - witness - a foretaste of this joy to come. We are to be signposts of what is coming and the way to get there. In so doing we release faith and hope into this despairing world. There is freedom in surrendering to Christ. As Isaiah reverberated the voice of God to us so long ago, "Is this not the kind of fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"

The half-brother of Jesus, James, tells us that it was the fervency of prayer and fasting of the prophet Elijah that brought the rains of heaven into a land crippled by drought. May our times of fasting and prayer do the same. The early Christian bishop Maximus of Turin (c. 380-c. 423), reflecting on Elijah and speaking of lent, wrote that " we, also fasting a total of forty days, might merit the spiritual rain of baptism ... and a shower from heaven might pour down upon the dry earth of the whole world, and the abundant waters of the saving bath might saturate the lengthy drought of the Gentiles."

Let us discover the joy set before us this lenten season. Let us invite all we can into this joy. Let us throw off all that hinders, so that like Jesus, we may endure.

For the joy set before us.

We're all going home.