When the disciples went to the tomb
on that first day of the week
they found the stone rolled back.
The tomb was empty. Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Someone must have stolen his body.
Then they encountered a stranger…but it wasn’t a stranger.
It was the Lord. He was alive. He was risen from the dead.
Their hearts rejoiced at this revelation.
They saw him die on the cross.
And now they see him, talk with him, eat meals with him.
God raised him up.
The Risen Lord promises them:
“you can share in the victory of my resurrection.”
It may seem, by these words of resurrection,
that I have totally skipped Lent before it has even begun.
Today, after all, is Ash Wednesday, not Easter Sunday.
Be assured, I have not made a mistake.
A teacher was testing the children in her 1st grade religion class to see if they understood the concept of getting to heaven.
She asked them, "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the poor, would that get me into Heaven?"
"NO!" the children answered.
"If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?"
Again, the answer was, "NO!"
Now she was smiling. Hey, they're getting it, she thought! "Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my husband, was nice to my neighbor, would that get me into Heaven?" she asked.
Again, they all answered, "NO!"
She was just bursting with pride for them. "Well," she continued, "then how can I get into Heaven?"
One of the boys from the back of the room shouted out, "YOU GOTTA BE DEAD."
Right you are, my young theologian.
To get to heaven, you have to be dead.
In order for us to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,
before God can raise us up to new life,
we must die.
But, entrance into heaven requires more than physical death.
And that is our task for the season of Lent: to die.
For the next forty days we contemplate the passion of Jesus,
we join him as he makes his way to the cross.
In love, he chooses to pay the price for the sin of the world.
He is sinless. He has done nothing wrong
but he chooses to suffer, he chooses to right our wrongs.
He is the Son of God.
He has to power to heal the sick, to feed the multitudes, to cast out demons, to raise the dead.
And yet he does not use this divine power to save himself.
We emulate his denial by “giving up” something for Lent.
We deny some right, some privilege, some possibility, some freedom
we die to our trivial wants, our misguided desires, our unrestrained passions…
we die to our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our disobedience…
we die to our impatience, our arrogance, our ignorance….
we die to our error, our misunderstandings, our self-righteousness…
we die to our prejudice, our stubbornness, our narrow-mindedness, our hard heartedness…
we die to our fears, our unforgiveness, our vices….
we die to our hypocrisy, our cowardice, our complacency….
we die to our anti-Christian attitudes, our inflated egos, our dead-end pursuits….
we die to our false gods, especially the god of self that says
“I can do what I want, when I want, where ever I want…..”
(Some have called this hyper-individualism.)
We die to our participation in injustice,
our contribution to the dehumanization of people,
our lack of interest in promoting the common good….
we die to impulses that are amoral, to forces that are destructive, to the darkness of sin…
There is something unique about dying to ourselves:
it is not accidental; it doesn’t happen all by itself;
it is not something unexpected that is sudden, that catches off guard;
it is not undetermined; it is not unpredictable;
It is not a matter of responding to, adapting to, or adjusting to some spontaneous,
unplanned event or circumstance that we just happen upon
as we move through jour ordinary everyday lives.
Dying to ourselves is a plan. It’s something we work out ahead of time.
It’s something we anticipate.
It is an intentional activity that forces us to change
our outlook, our behavior, our way of thinking.
It is a willingness, it is a decision, it is a choice….to sacrifice.
Herein is our Lenten practice: self-sacrifice.
The call of Lent is a call to sacrifice.
Lent isn’t a time of wishing; it is a time of acting.
Sacrifice, by its very nature, is giving something up…
Sacrifice is an act of faith.
We choose to die to self for a reason.
We want God to fulfill his promise and raise us up to new life, to a better life,
to life in Jesus Christ.
We believe God has the power and the desire to save us from a senseless, meaningless,
unfulfilling, unsatisfying, boring, restless, empty life.
But if we never die, we will never rise.
If we never die, then the path of our life never changes.
If we never die, we never experience re-birth.
And if God can’t and doesn’t lift us up to something new and improved
after we die to self in the here and now,
then we are fools for entrusting our lives to him at the time of our physical death.
During Lent we renew our spiritual hopes and aspirations.
It’s like sitting down and putting together a spiritual budget.
We are limited in our resources: our time, our energy, our attention.
There is so much to do and so little time.
We are overwhelmed by demands and expectations.
If we are smart, wise, prudent, sensible,
then we will seek out the biggest bang for our spiritual buck.
Jesus, by his life, death and resurrection reveals the truth: sacrifice.
The greatest act of love, the most transformative expenditure of our spiritual resources,
for our world, for our families, for our community, for ourselves….
If we want to regain the humanity we have lost…then sacrifice.
If we want to grow in our relationships with God….then sacrifice.
If we have wandered away from the Lord, and we want to return….then we must sacrifice.
If we want a clean heart and a steadfast spirit….this requires sacrifice.
If we want to experience Easter Sunday with joy and wonder and awe,
then we must journey through Lent with “sacrifice” as our companion.
If we’re not willing to die,
then we may want to forgo receiving ashes on our forehead.
Because if we’re not willing to die to self,
which quite possibly no one will ever see, or recognize, or appreciate
then the ashes we receive today become nothing more than an empty gesture…
just another mechanical event in our life
that has little impact on getting us to our desired destination: heaven.
As a wise 1st grader once said: “You have to die to get to heaven!”
Our prayer today: “O Lord, be merciful to Your people, who come before you with humble hearts. Renew our faith in Your Son Jesus Christ, as we mindfully participate, in the process of conversion, during this Season of Lent. Restore to us, the grace of knowing and trusting, that beyond the sacrifice of the cross, is resurrection to new life. Amen!”
When the disciples went to the tomb