Are you ready for the journey? Ash Wednesday is March the sixth. On that day we’ll receive the symbolic mark of ashes in the shape of the cross, right in the middle of our foreheads. From that day forward we’re in a steady procession towards Holy Week, with its swirl of events that range from exaltation on Palm Sunday to despair on Good Friday. Then we, like the Galilean disciples, will be left in a state of suspense until the great discovery of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Finally, we’ll get to blow the roof off of our somber gatherings and declare “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.”
This year we’ll use the words of Pontius Pilate for a Lenten theme as we “Behold the Man.” After Jesus was arrested on the night of the Last Supper He was treated roughly by the temple officers, by Herod’s guard, and by the Roman soldiers. The crowd that followed these events was eager to have Jesus put to death in the extreme humiliation of the cross. However, the Roman governor Pilate couldn’t find any crime that would bring the order of capital punishment on Jesus.
Hoping he could satisfy their lust for violence, he had Jesus flogged and crowned with thorns. Then he put the battered Jesus on display and made that famous taunt, “Behold the Man!” Though he meant to mock Jesus, Pilate had a way of unknowingly telling the truth about our Lord. There, in His vulnerable humanity, stood the King of the Universe, the Lord of Creation, our Beautiful Savior. Just like Isaiah had prophesied, there was nothing majestic or handsome about Him that would have captured their attention. He didn’t look like God, but He sure looked like human flesh – miserable human flesh.
Pontius Pilate certainly wasn’t a Christian theologian. But, he put the spotlight on how the death of Jesus would be so personal for us. Jesus assumed human nature for the purpose of assuming human sin and taking it to the cross for its just punishment. In every detail except for sin, Jesus was human and He looked like us because He was one of us. In devotion to Him, let’s consider what it means to have a God who joins us in having hunger (March 6), who prays (March 13), who is physically abused (March 20), who is left exposed (March 27), who has a mother (April 3), who thirsts (April 10), who loves others (April 18), bleeds and dies (April 19), but who conquers sin and death for us (April 21).
The church season of Lent is absolutely a man-made exercise. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to recreate the roller-coaster emotions of Holy Week. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to designate a 40-day season of repentance. We do it simply because it is helpful to our faith journey with Him. And so, we wear ashes in remembrance of our sin. We shout Hosanna on Palm Sunday in remembrance of His mission. We participate in the Communion meal of His promise and we gather in the starkness of His final words and breath on the cross. Then, we quietly wait for what we know is coming – the Easter celebration of new life transferred from Jesus’ glorified flesh to our mortal flesh. We commemorate His victory because He gives it to us as our victory.
God’s grace is free, but it doesn’t come cheaply. It’s been earned by Jesus, who accomplishes it by entering our world in His humanity. Like His first disciples, let’s walk that journey beside Him and remember ever so clearly what He’s done and what He’s called us to be – one of His own.
On the Lenten journey with you,