As we journey through Lent this season, I invite you to journey to the cross. Slow down, stop and notice every detail of this dusty road that leads to a glorious celebration on Easter morning.
As we journey to the cross, let us remember that we are not merely spectators of the road to Calvary. We are not merely on the sidelines watching what happens to Jesus, we are a vital part of the story. We are the ones whom God so loved, that he gave his only Son, so we who believe in him can have everlasting life. As followers of Christ, we receive this wonderful offer of grace, and we choose to deny ourselves and take up our own cross, where we follow Jesus down that dusty road.
The road that leads to life is narrow. The gate to the road is small and often missed by the distractions and pleasures of this world. The distractions continually call to us with speech that is smoother than oil, but in the end is bitter than gall. But if we remain on the narrow path, and take up our cross willingly, we will see life springing up all around us. The road may be barren and dusty at times, but it is lined with lilies that do not toil or spin, because they are clothed by the creator of the universe. There are wells that spring forth, even in the most barren places, like an oasis in the desert. And the water… the water on the path less taken, it tastes like the finest wine, and once you get a taste, you will never be thirsty again. The fruit on this journey is not the forbidden kind, rather it produces a change in our spirit and we grow in joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, simply by remaining with Christ.
Most of all, the journey to the cross teaches us to love, not just those who love us, but to love those who hate us. And that’s important, because the dusty road that leads to Calvary is lined with spectators, some of them are hurling insults because they do not understand. They need to see in order to believe. They prefer rules over righteousness by grace. They offer vinegar to quench our thirst, because they are full of anger. This life is all they know, and they are striving to make the best for themselves. They are not aware that Jesus said whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for him will find it. Sometimes, these people hurt us. But there along that dusty road, we see a table prepared for us right there in the presence of our enemies, inviting us to stop and eat until our bellies are satisfied.
Others who line the path are good people, but they are indifferent to the commotion they see. They have no idea who this is carrying the cross out of love for them, and they don’t understand those of us who follow him. These are sheep without a shepherd, they are lost souls. They have a need, as we all do, but they have no idea how to fill it. So don’t be surprised that the journey to the cross includes detours, where Christ leads us from the 99, to the one sheep who has lost his or her way. Time does not matter to God – this road is not a sprint – the journey takes as long as it takes. It is a dirty, dusty path and we will need to wash one another’s feet often. Wash and be washed, as both are equally important.
As we travel onward, we will find we have no need for all the heavy baggage we carry – pride, hate, anger, lust, self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, perfection, unforgiveness --- these will be all be exchanged for goodness and mercy, which will follow us on this road all the days of our lives. And love, love is the motivation for every step we take. At times we may think we cannot do it, but we can, because Christ will do it for us. At the cross, where self is crucified, we no longer live -- Christ lives in us.
From dust we came and to dust we shall return, but dust is not the end of the road. The road to the cross leads to resurrection life and life more abundantly. An abundant life is a life full of love.
My question for you on this Ash Wednesday -- Do you know the depths of Christ’s love for you? And if you do, are you so overflowing in that love that you are giving it away so others can know Christ’s love too?
This is the season on the Christian calendar to take inventory of our soul…to fast, repent and draw near to God. I challenge you to an exchange… to fast from a negative behavior and to take up Christ’s character in its place.
Pope Francis offered this list:
"to fast from hurting words and say kind words, fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude, fast from anger and be filled with patience, fast from pessimism and be filled with hope, fast from worries and trust in God, fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity, fast from pressures and be prayerful, fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy, fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others, fast from grudges and be reconciled, fast from words and be silent so you can listen."
I would add to the list -- fast from anything that is keeping you from feasting on Christ’s unconditional, sacrificial love for you. Ask God to get to the heart of anything that is holding you back from knowing how much God loves you.
As we come to the altar to receive our ashes for Lent, leave that request here, and trust that God has answered your prayer.