Eastern Christianity speaks of Lent as a time of “bright sadness.” It’s bright because we know the promise of resurrection waits for us on the other side. But there is nonetheless sadness because in order to see the light of Easter morning we must first pass through the darkness of Good Friday. Lent is, after all, a walk with Jesus to his death. That he would be raised is always meant to be a surprise.
Theologically speaking, this is a delicate balance to walk, holding both Jesus’ death and his resurrection in equal measure. To lean too much in either direction risks minimizing the other.
And yet, there’s something about this notion of “bright sadness” that we know deep in our bodies. We’ve all felt a kind of “sad brightness,” where our feelings of joy and satisfaction are tempered when we realize they are fleeting.
When we realize the vacation will end and family will return to their homes.
When summer is over and a new school year starts.
When you see the marks on the doorframe measuring a year’s worth of growth.
There’s a sadness behind every bright spot. Perhaps a gift of Lent is reminding us that this is okay; that it’s at the heart of our story. Even the risen Christ had wounds.
Perhaps the more difficult notion is that there is a brightness behind every sadness. This notion is more hard-won because the brightness is not immediately visible. We often must sit in the darkness for sometime before the brightness is revealed. We must move through the darkness to get to the light. This, too, can be a gift of Lent, as we tell this story together over the course of so many weeks in worship.
The great Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, describes the hope of Lenten worship this way,
“Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed ‘bright,’ that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us…All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched ‘another world.’ And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.”
Such is the great hope of this season we enter, this story that we tell, and this life we live together. The life we know deep in own bones, that we pray this season will lift to our hearts.