April 11th, 2009
by Ervin Stutzman,
Weeks ago, as I contemplated the Lenten journey, I still saw occasional patches of snow or ice in the yard. These vestiges of winter made me long for the warmth of Easter, the bursting forth of spring. The season of Lent brings its own chill, a foreboding of hard things on the unseen horizon. It prompts in me a sense of humility, an awareness of deep need for all that God has to offer.
I think of Lent as a time for self-sacrifice, the occasion to give up something precious in the hope of spiritual reward. It is a time to lay aside unnecessary burdens which weigh down our shoulders and bow our backs. So like Christ’s sent disciples, I embarked on the Lenten journey after stripping off what I deemed as excess baggage. In a figurative sense at least, I determined to set off with only a change of clothes, sandals, and a staff.
After several days on the journey, I came to a place where the path disappeared in the thick woods. The way forward was not clear; no signposts were in sight. A branch lay fallen across the beaten path. I would have to wrestle my way around the barrier. I stopped to ponder and pray. Had I lost my way? Was God still leading the way?
It was difficult to see in the dim light. Where were the signs of God’s presence? In the absence of human footprints, was God beckoning me to blaze a lonely trail? I longed to see further ahead, to gaze around the next bend. Ever so slowly I made my way forward, hoping that I was hearing the whisper of God’s voice.
After I passed through that place of uncertainty and foreboding, God’s abundant light streamed onto the path. Splashes of light illuminated my way through tall trees. The sounds of the first birds of spring filled the air, accenting the sound of bubbling water in the nearby brook.
And now that I’ve come to the end of the Lenten journey, I muse about what I’ve learned on the trip. I’ve observed that a hunger and thirst for God yields its own sense of fullness and satisfaction. The ashes of repentance eventuate in the renewal of hope. The emptying of self makes room for the fullness of the divine. The somber joy of Lent brings the exuberant hope of Easter.
In this solemn walk, the story of God’s people has illuminated my own story. God’s people also walked on ancient paths with many twists and turns, at times through the wilderness. Yet they walked the path together, with the cloud of God’s presence going before them. To be truly embraced by the community of God’s people is to be received by God.
In the chill of Lent, in the emptiness of the desert, nothing is more precious than a sense of God’s daily provision. Truly I can sing with the chorus of God’s people – “our lives are in your hands.”