Struggle and loss punctuated the joy of our Advent season. We moved through Epiphany in a haze of grief and acceptance, mingling with expectation and restoration. And here, we find ourselves entering this contemplative, reflective season of Lent, with a new hope we’d abandoned back in December.
Time is a strange thing.
Winter hangs on here, and it’s a fight not to wish the linger chill to up and vanish already. The truth is, I ache for spring, and in my longing, I am apt to wish the days away in eagerness for what I know is coming. I am impatient for a fresh season. For warmer air, and longer hours of sun. I grumble through slipping on gloves and the wrapping of scarves. Enough, I sigh too loudly. But even if I bit my tongue, God would still hear my discontent in the echoes of my heart. So I confess it outright, and let the confession give way to repentance for all of the ways beyond the current forecast, of which I am dissatisfied.
I rise from my prayers relieved both by my own honesty, and the truth of God’s forgiveness that I am assured is mine. Refusal to repent always feels like a dam bulging before it breaks. Holding it back does no earthly good. Without confession, without repentance, I will drown in my sin.
I messaged a friend the other day and we spent many long minutes reflecting on what feels like an inexplicable and mounting urgency. For what exactly, neither of us could pin down, but the sensation remains, whether we understand it or not.
We are not the first people to feel certain that time is of the essence. In Paul’s letter to the people at Corinth, he writes,
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2
Today is Ash Wednesday. This afternoon, we will wander into a quiet sanctuary, symbolically stripped of most of her usual trappings, and receive the installation of ashes in the form of the cross on our foreheads. We will be reminded that our life is but a breath–that we are made of ashes. We will be reminded that now is the time for repentance. And then we will emerge from that hushed, hallowed space, back out into the noise of the world choking on the false urgency of the incidental. We are always living these contradictions.
Lent presses us to think about our griefs, our loss, our struggle, our sin. It’s an invitation to taste the bitterness of the cross, to understand in new ways, the cost of discipleship. Now is the time. Paul’s words encourage us not to delay. This isn’t a hurried dismissal of our current season–but rather a challenge to see how desperately we need Christ in the midst of it. Now.
I am impatient for all of the wrong things. This truth is one of the gifts Lent offers me, year after year. In the dark of these days leading to up to Easter, in the hard fast of surrender and sacrifice, God peels back the paper-thin layers of my heart to reveal the places most in need of healing.
Now is the day of salvation.
Now is the time of God’s favor.
Here, with hearts bared before God, with ashes on our heads, this is the day for repentance. This is the day our lives begin again in Christ.
What is being transfigured here is your mind, and it is difficult and slow to become new. The more faithfully you can endure here, the more refined your heart will become for your arrival in the new dawn. (John O’Donohue)