The gloomy and grey spell of February afflicts the human soul. And just then, when life feels most painfully frozen and dark, we enter the period of Lent, a church season full of somber, remorseful, even morbid introspection. How terribly depressing.
Could it be, however, that Lent, like the Cross itself, is counterintuitively life-giving? Could it be that this season in which we seek to reorient our souls, clarify priorities, and slow down to focus upon the person of Jesus is a decisive pivot into springtime? Instead of the morbid, anxious, sentimental season of popular imagination—a time of pseudo sufferings “together with Christ” and milk-warm arguments for abstinence—what if Lent is a gospel clarion call, a summons to step from the cold shadows of pain into the warm light of God’s peace?
It’s a shame that many Christians regard Lent as a time for little more than self-inflicted agony and therapeutic self-improvement. But, as with the Cross to which it points us, there is a transformational power to Lent that hides beneath the surface. As Paul describes in 2 Cor 4:6, God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Paul reveals that God the Father, who created light at the dawn of time, has accomplished an even greater work by causing the divine light of his glory in Jesus Christ to shine in our hearts. How does this relate to Lent? Simply put, Lent is a season in which we seek to eliminate distractions in pursuit of the light of Christ. We who are sick and tired of February must recognize that beneath the gloom is the transforming light of God—a light that we encounter when we see Jesus Christ.
So let’s ask the practical question. How do we behold Christ?
First, we must remember what God has accomplished in Christ. While Satan, the author of deception, seeks to enslave us with permanent guilt, the gospel tells a different story. When we listen to Satan’s lies, we sink into anxiety, and all the attendant traps, from substance abuse to workaholism to general hopelessness. But Christ reminds us that he has already won the victory over everything we fear: “I have said these things to you,” Jesus exclaimed, “that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
Second, we must return to the Father. If there’s one thing that Lent brings most to mind, it’s the notion of repentance, and for good reason. The theme of the parable of the Prodigal Son has always been at the center of this season. We have failed to hold onto the good things the Father has given us, particularly his redemptive promise. We have abandoned communion with God, foolishly squandering the joy of our inheritance. And the result is that we are far from our true home, wandering in a distant place among swine. Some of us have wandered further than others; but all of us have wandered. Therefore, Lent is a season for a deliberate return to our true home. It’s a time to believe God’s promise that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Third, as we walk through the wilderness of this life, anticipating the great feast that God has prepared for us in the future, we have his glorious foretaste to enjoy in the present. I like how John Chrysostom expressed this:
Look, I beg you. A royal table is set before you. Angels serve at the table. The King Himself is there. And do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled, and yet you take no account of it? Or are they clean? Then fall down and partake!
Tell me, suppose someone were invited to a feast, and were to wash his hands, and sit down, and be all ready at the table, and after all this, refuse to partake? Is he not insulting the man who invited him? Were it not better for such a person never to have come at all?
My friends, God has prepared a table for us to enjoy. This Sunday we’ll celebrate it together. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And we realize that Jesus’ promise to feed our souls transcends Sunday morning communion to every day and every moment in which we enjoy the all-satisfying presence of Christ. He is our manna in the wilderness. He is our cool spring in the desert. He is our light in the darkness. He is our warm embrace in February.
 On Ephesians, Homily 3.