Crocus will soon appear in our yard, announcing Spring’s imminence. Costco usurped the flower’s mission with aisles of paddle boards and sunscreen while snow yet covered the ground. Ashen crosses will mark our foreheads on Wednesday. Lent begins with the reminder that the season of planting soon follows.
Lent’s history includes an unfinished skirmish with natural theology. Natural theology claims God can be known apart from revelation. The Psalmist appears to agree. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Creation itself engages in praise of the Creator: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Ps 148:7-10)
The existence of God is evident in nature, reasoned William Paley (1743-1804). Just as a watch’s design points to a designer, so creation’s beauty and order points to nature’s divine creator. Not so fast.
Lent is a 40-day journey to an (unnatural) Easter revelation. Reason must be given its due, but ambiguities in events both then and now open us to mysteries. The church offers a map; if followed it will reveal a journey of mystery, of awe and wonder, miracle and beauty, of new and everlasting life.
Lent, Easter and Passover appropriated and replaced ancient’s Spring announcements (the Babylonian Akitu, the Persian Nowrus and the Roman Peilia) calling the faithful to remember the Exodus and the resurrection of Jesus. Christmas was no longer Sol Victus, the rebirth of the Roman “unconquered sun,” but is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. All stories of God busy in human life.
Lent reveals our hidden future. Lent is history and truth about the nature and will of God. Lent takes a seat beside us between reason’s demands and revelation’s sacred indiscretion. Lent’s ask is to pay close attention to the discomforting space between deliberate and unintentional, between knowing and ambiguity.
“Be reconciled to God,” writes Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (5:20-6:2), our second reading for Ash Wednesday. Reconciliation, writes Karoline Lewis (Associate Professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary), is St. Paul’s request of his readers to “see themselves as working together with the Apostles, trusting that God in Christ is about reconciling the world to God’s self,” which is, Dr. Lewis writes, “something we are as well as we do, an empowered process for new creation.”
“Be reconciled” is an invitation to participate. “The need for reconciliation,” she writes, “is real and immediate. Now is the acceptable time, and in these moments of reconciliation, we will indeed witness the dawn of the day of salvation.”
Set aside reason’s demands, wear an ashen cross on Wednesday. Make ready for Easter’s promise 40 days away.