Keeping Time with Jesus
The Church’s Lenten journey is a double journey: into the mystery of God’s unfathomable grace and into the depths of our humanity. Both are required. For some of us the pathway to divine encounter is when we confront our deepest needs; for others it is only when God’s love suddenly embraces us that we begin to learn about the mystery of being human. The Christian community cannot avoid this journey because, for the Church, it is also a liturgical pilgrimage journey toward Easter and the mystery of our baptism into Christ—a confrontation with the “gap” between the world as it is and the world as God intends it to be; the gap between who we are and who Christ calls us to be.
At the heart of the Christian faith and our life together is our entry into the life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and Spirit-giving of Jesus Christ. Lent calls us to face in the direction God’s embodied love looks. We proclaim that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Born into our human history in the fullness of time for our salvation—and the redemption of the whole world—Jesus lived and suffered and died our death. But God “raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand…, and has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20, 22-23.) This is the Paschal Mystery which the season of Lent prepares us for, the mystery which Easter and the Great Fifty Days celebrate.
When we speak of the Paschal Mystery, we point to the inexhaustible range of meanings found in the saving work of Christ and in the church’s participation in his life poured out into our world—into our lives, our struggles, our hopes and disappointments, our sorrows and deepest joys. We use this term to refer to the depth of the Eucharist itself. This Paschal Mystery has everything to do with our baptismal journey in Lent, and with re-entering the narrative of passion-death-resurrection. My favorite definition of the Christian liturgical year is “keeping time with Jesus.” Thus Lent is a way of keeping time with the whole story that unfolds from Ash Wednesday through Easter to Pentecost. The journey is from ashes to fire.
So we are summoned to fast and pray. We pray through the astonishing images given in Scripture this season. As Jesus faced temptation, so must we. As he struggled with human misunderstanding, so must we. As he healed the sick and fed the hungry, so must we pray and work for healing and for feeding the hungry. As he faced mortality and human weakness, so must we. As he steadfastly journeyed toward Jerusalem, so must we face the world’s conflict of good and evil. All of this is prayer. As some in the early Church have said, the life of the Christian is one long continual prayer.
Our double journey unfolds the whole range of our humanity before God and neighbor. We go the way of Christ’s liturgy. Take heart, the One who bids us follow has gone this way and will not fail us. The Paschal Mystery embraces and sustains us on our way.