Bright Sadness -- Scott Dickison
This Sunday marks the first Sunday in Lent, the 40-day season in the church calendar leading up to Easter. Lent is one of the oldest observances in our faith, dating back to the 4th century. It began as a 40-day fast starting after Epiphany in remembrance of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but soon became a fast of preparation for new converts leading up to their baptism, which would occur en masse at the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve.
Today, Lent has taken on a range of meanings and observances, ranging from a traditional vegetarian fast (no meats, fats, oils and dairy) to simply “giving something up;” chocolate, TV or some other indulgence. I’ve even heard of people giving up coffee, which seems particularly severe. Others have chosen to instead “take something on” for Lent; to learn a new skill or commit oneself to exercise or reading.
But while Lent is a very old tradition, in many ways it’s new to Baptists, and it’s a fair question to ask, “Why should we observant Lent?” Why do we need to contemplate our mortality—hasn’t Christ won the battle? Why all the doom and gloom? Are we not people of the Resurrection?
These are all good questions. And yes, Christ has already won the battle and our great promise and hope is eternal life. I hope we try to become people of the Resurrection every day. But just because we celebrate Christ’s defeat of Death in the end doesn’t make death, and pain and sadness any less real in the meantime. Lent is about holding these two truths together: God is more powerful than sin and death, but we are not.
In the Eastern Church, this tension of Lent is described as “bright sadness.” In Lent we are invited to consider and contemplate our own mortality and limitations—the “sadness” that is a part of any human life. Through these 40 days we walk with Jesus on a road we know leads to Good Friday and the cross. Along the way we take time to consider our own “Good Friday” moments, those times when our human frailty is in full view.
But our sadness is “bright” because just as Good Friday leads to Easter morning, God so often meets us in our weakness and pain. Our sadness is bright because through it we are offered a way to transformation.
Blessings on your Lenten journey. May it be for you a journey of personal discovery and growth. May you experience this “bright sadness,” and may you find the joy of Easter morning waiting on the other side.