I guess it’s unusual for the first day of Lent to fall on Valentine’s day but here we are, and I only discovered it this morning.  

Show of hands, how many people really have no clue what lent is all about? 

I see that hand! 

Oh wait, it’s mine.  

So let me start by being very clear.  I am not here to educate you about lent.  Here’s all I know.  It’s a 40 day period leading up to Easter (in fact it might lead up to Good Friday).  It’s not mentioned in the Bible, but it seems to have become a tradition in the early church within the first two or three centuries.  And it seems like the 40 days is a reflection of the time Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry.   People often take this time to just focus a little more on Jesus.  Often, they fast from something, maybe social media or chocolate because there’s something about giving up a thing that is important to you, that keeps drawing your attention.  

For instance, I have had a couple of times when I have really wanted to remember to pray for a friend who was going through something.  Choosing to not eat for a day, or even just give up coffee and tea, has a way of constantly reminding me that I should be praying.  I don’t think that’s remotely all there is to it.  That’s what I have figured out so far. I’m just being honest.  The better I get to know my Heavenly Father, the more I love him, but thus far, I am still much less an example to follow and much more a cautionary tale.

Be that as it may, Lent begins today. And let me assure you, I will require a heavenly vision from the angel Gabriel himself before I give up coffee for 40 days. But if there is some Christian tradition that can help centre me a little more tightly on my Jesus, I want in.  

So I find myself this Valentine’s Day in Mark 15.  Jesus goes on trial, if you can call it that, first before the Jewish leaders, then before the Roman governor and in a remarkably short and brutal few verses, he is being executed.  

So here I am at 6:30am, clutching a very large mug of coffee, reading, copying, reading, copying, asking God if there is something he wants to show me today.  I get to verse 34.  It’s kind of unusual because, though the New Testament was primarily recorded in Greek originally, Mark feels the need to record Jesus’ words in Hebrew, followed by the translation.  (It might help you to know that there is a Hebrew nerd inside of me, brought to life by Dr. Daniel Driver – God bless you wherever you are – during two semesters of ancient Hebrew at Tyndale University.  One day, sir, I WILL study Hebrew again!). It’s probably the (transliterated) Hebrew that helps grab my attention.  “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is jarring in any language and spoken by any person, but when the Son of God himself expresses this to his own Father? That’s a level of pain I can’t actually grasp (not that I’d want to).  Now if I’m honest, what grabbed me in that moment was the “why”.  

Jesus is asking the Father “why”.  And I’m trying to think about that coherently.  

Was he really asking for a reason?  

I feel like he understood. 

Or in that terrible moment, having already submitted to the will of his Father, did he suddenly lose the ability to understand?  

Or is the “why” just that visceral, heart wrenching utterance that isn’t really a question, it’s more like a primal expression of pain? 

I’m thinking I need somebody with a much better grasp of ancient Greek.  Chris! God bless my husband for choosing his closest friends so well. He has some really good ones! Chris is a pastor and a scholar and also exactly the kind of crazy person that my husband loves to talk to/debate with.  It’s 7am by now so I FB message Chris. The short version of my inquiry is this, “What is this ‘why’ about?”  

In barely half an hour I have his brief analysis together with quotes, definitions, and cross references. 

And as I read his responses, the “why” fades, because I am reminded that, when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was quoting a psalm.  He was quoting scripture.  Psalm 22:1 to be exact.

And now God is doing what he so often does with me.  He is using my weaknesses to his strength.  I have a short attention span (like, microscopic).  I get side tracked easily.  I am the reigning queen of the bunny trail.  But God knows that about me, so he makes sure that my bunny trails eventually wind back to where he actually wants me to go, even though they often start off in some wild direction that is decidedly leading nowhere.  

And here is where this morning’s bunny trail led.  In Mark 15, Jesus is actually, literally having the worst day in history.  There is no contest.  I don’t know what you have been through.  I bet some of it has been really bad.  I hear you.  Me too.  Your worst day might be worse than mine.  But neither of us can touch the day Jesus was having.  The perfect Son of God, worshipped in heaven as King, who has never, for a single breath even had a sinful thought, is suddenly crushed under the weight, not only of unbearable physical pain, but of guilt and shame for every horrifying thing that humanity could ever do.  And in that moment, Jesus felt total rejection even from his Father.  

And somehow, from that darkest place in human history, Jesus’ response was scripture.  

Y’all, stop with me here. 

Like please, let me catch my breath.  

In that place of total abandonment and humiliation and agony, the dying word-of-God-made-flesh quoted the living word of God.  

Come on now.  

And because only an hour or two ago I was hopping along the Lent bunny trail, I still have 40 days going through my mind.  So I’m reminded of the temptation of Jesus, where he spent 40 days alone in a wilderness. When Satan tried to distract him from his purpose, what did Jesus do?  He quoted scripture.

And if you read the gospels, it becomes ridiculously obvious that Jesus knew the scriptures.    He quoted them.  He understood his mission within their context.  He accused religious leaders of doing things wrong because they didn’t understand the scriptures (massive burn by the way!) Jesus expressed a need for the scriptures that he said was greater than his need for food.

And here’s where I’m going, (where the bunny trail dropped me):  If Jesus felt as strongly about the word of God as he clearly did, if he studied it diligently, quoted it often and if it was the only thing he could think of in the worst moment in history, maybe it is worth more of my attention.

I told you at the beginning that I don’t really know squat about lent.  That’s the truth, but if it’s a tradition intended to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter, then indulge me while I propose a way to use the next 40 days to do just that. In fact, maybe we can even get in on a bit of this confusing fasting thing too.  What if we pick something we give a lot of our attention to?  Maybe it is a hobby, maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s 15 minutes of sleep in the morning.  Let’s give up something important to us so that we can interact more seriously with the word of God.  

Maybe commit to copying a book of scripture, or memorizing a chapter, or doing a deep dive into a passage or story that you’ve always wondered about.  Whatever you choose, choose to do something that sees you interacting with the word of God.  Apparently, it was a big help to Jesus, I’ll just bet it can help us too!

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