One of the changes that came with our move is that we landed in a church that observes Lent. The nontraditional part of me feels a bit curmudgeonly about this—so many practices of the church have become empty ritual, especially when they’re passed down over centuries. But knowing something of our new pastor’s heart already, I know he wants this to be vital and real to the believers under his care, and so I’m doing my best to go with it.
What is Lent? Traditionally it’s the 40 days leading up to Resurrection Sunday, roughly six weeks. Its observance is to help people focus on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and to appreciate more deeply what He’s done for us.
We should focus on the Cross during the whole year, of course. But does that mean I turn down an opportunity to do so just because it seems artificially pre-programmed?
People commonly give up something for Lent—smoking, sugar, chocolate, coffee, TV, Facebook. I’ve run across two different commentaries that postulate that, the principle of fasting aside, this sort of observance usually winds up being worthless in terms of bringing us closer to God. Better to focus on “giving up” something spiritual that tends to be a snare to us, like gossip or complaining or anger or fear. I’m not sharing what I feel God has led me to give up—or better yet, lay down—because I’m feeling this is meant to be a private discipline between me and Him over the next weeks. And that isn’t the focus of this devotional, anyway.
I’ve been looking instead at the passages of Scripture our church has laid out to focus on over the season of Lent. The first one covers the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. A more-or-less familiar passage, depending upon how many years one has been in the church. What strikes me most this week is the authentic humanness of Jesus.
Of course Jesus was really human, we say. But the doubt of that seeps into our everyday thinking. Can He really understand our experience? Sure, He was tempted—I’ve heard preachers outline that each of the three temptations corresponds to a different area of human experience, and so everything we’ve ever been tempted to do is covered by Jesus’ wilderness trials. But I believe it’s deeper than that, and we see it here in this passage.
Basically, after celebrating Passover for the last time with His disciples, Jesus leads them out to the Mount of Olives, to Gethsemane (translated Olive Press, I believe), where he tells them to watch and pray, then goes on to pray alone. It’s here He spoke those often-quoted words, “Not My will, but Yours.” Do we feel the depth of dread in the part that came before—“if it is Your will, take this cup from Me”? The divine part of Jesus understood what was to come with a clarity I can hardly imagine, and the human part recoiled from it.
And, as our pastor here commented, it wasn’t like He had to do it. He was God—all the glory belonged to Him, anyway.
41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22, NKJV)