I’ve been thinking about Lent. We are over half-way through this most sacred season and I’m wondering what we’ve accomplished. As Holy Week looms over the horizon, I’m also considering what comes next. Up to this point, things have been relatively easy. We may have missed a few sodas, candy, or internet time. But as we turn the corner toward the home stretch, things start to change. The Lenten expectations became darker and the language you hear around church becomes harsher. Without realizing what we’re saying or doing, we’ve become involved in the confusing emotional melee which marks our memories of the final days of Jesus of Nazareth.
For understandable and historic reasons, the end of Lent has been the time that Christians want to talk about and focus on the sufferings of Jesus. Isn’t it all about the suffering, one might ask? I don’t know. Discussions of Jesus’ sufferings can very easily deteriorate into a sadomasochistic-like blow by blow depiction of torture which focuses on blood, pain, and soldiers beating a man to death with leather whips. Those kinds of sermons, Bible studies, and presentations aren’t about the Gospel. They are about those who enjoy fear and those who are exploited by such fears. You cannot preach about hope by forcing people to stare into the face of fear and pain. Yet, we force ourselves to submit to this lie year after year.
We have grown to thrive on the blood and the brutality of Lent. As the days wind down and we approach Palm Sunday, the imagery of violence increases exponentially. This is not only in the Biblical text but in the way we decorate (draping the chancel in black) our churches (nails, hammers, whips, crowns of thorns on the altar) and in the language of the “bloody” hymns we sing. It does seem that if Jesus is being tortured for our sins, we’re going to pull out all of the stops and enjoy the show. We want to experience the fright in a first hand way as teenagers do when they go see “the” big horror movie of the summer season. Jesus is dying for our sins and we want front row seats, we want to see it, feel it, and experience because it’s all for us! We want to enjoy, with as much reality as possible, this innocent man’s death! He died for you, sit back, watch, and enjoy this man deal with your pain. This, for all of its absurdity, is the message of our Lenten celebrations. Something has gone horribly wrong.
Or, does the yearly reminder of the physical mutilation of Jesus’ body (on Maundy Thursday/Good Friday) have nothing to do with dying for our sins? Does it have everything to do with why we misunderstand why Jesus was about to die? Yes. We’re confusing decisions the church made about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection years after the actual events (long after people with any first hand memory were dead) with the actual cause and effects related to Jesus’ execution. What did people understand at the time?
Jesus was a serious threat to the Roman Imperial Government and their puppet Jewish regime. Jesus was killed because he was a political threat to the Roman government, not because he was saying he was going to forgive the sins of humanity.
We need to move beyond our fascination with torture. If we were as appalled by the Roman government’s use of capital punishment as we our own state’s, this would be a different nation indeed. Lent needs to be about something else. Lent is too short to culminate after six weeks in a sadomasochistic lie.