Lent is often perceived as a dark and solemn season. Common practices involve refraining from pleasures during these 40 days. What is forgotten about the season of Lent is that it is meant to cast light upon our Christian behaviour. The very word “Lent” means light. It is in reference to the lengthening of sunshine hours, but it is also a helpful metaphor. After we have celebrated Christ’s birth and enjoyed the many “epiphanies,” we have an opportunity to cast light on our mortality and relationship with God and others. Lent becomes both a private self-examination and a public iteration of our faith walk. The passage that best describes this comes from the words of Jesus:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Lenten observance is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We begin the season of Lent by remembering that “we are but dust and to dust shall we return.” It is the ultimate declaration of our humility and fragility before God. It is more than a custom to adorn one’s forehead with ash. The ashen cross is a mini sacrament. We have been signed with a representation of death, but with the knowledge that the cross of Jesus saves us from eternal separation.
We, as believers in Jesus, no longer live under the pall of death. We live under the grace and protection of Jesus. Paul states, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) Lent gives us the opportunity to ask, “What will I do with the grace given to me?”
There is an expectation that experiencing grace will change us. We, as believers in Jesus, must shine forth to all around us. It is not important how one observes Lent. Instead, one should ask, “Why do I observe Lent?”
“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
Lent gives us time to ask, “In what ways can I be an instrument of righteousness?” Each of us are unique instruments. We are equal but not identical. The Lord has gifted us with abilities and opportunities. It is not important how big we are as an instrument; rather, it is how useful we are. Take, for example, our vast universe. Every galaxy has various sizes of suns or light givers. God did not create these as identical bodies but each one casts light which we can see in the darkness of space. Age, ethnicity, sex, and physical ability are not to be regarded as impassable impediments. We may be constrained but we are never impeded in shining our light. Lent beckons us to consider: What is righteousness?
Sometimes perfection and righteousness are presumed as synonymous, but there is a big difference between “righteous” and “perfect.” Christians are called to be instruments of righteousness, not perfection. Righteous living is fraught with imperfect behaviour. Abraham was considered righteous, but certainly was not perfect. David was “the apple of God’s eye” but greatly sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba. Peter denied knowing Jesus but was called “the rock upon which the Church will be built.” There are countless other examples of righteous followers who were not perfect by any stretch.
To be an instrument of righteousness means to accept and emulate the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We are not approved by God because we have done great things. Instead, we are to do great things because we are approved by God. It is a subtle, but profound, difference. Righteousness requires us to hear our Lord say, “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We have to stop striving to be perfect and instead focus on being right with God and right with others.
Therefore, let us use this season of Lent as an opportunity to shine Christ’s light on our attitudes and behaviours. Let us shine Christ’s light to others so that they may glorify God. Finally, let us use this season to make this community, city, province, country, and world a brighter place by being “instruments of righteousness.”
Jonathan Blanchard is the priest at St. Andrew’s, Woodhaven (Winnipeg).