By Emrys Tyler
We are entering late winter, when many Christian traditions celebrate a season called “Lent.” These 40 days before Easter evolved into a preparation time for new Christians before their baptism on Easter Sunday. Part of that preparation was a meditation on the power of sin in one’s life and the need for grace and mercy from God.
In the after-effects of the last presidential administration, I noticed many references to “soul-searching.” The vitriol of political discourse, the shocking events at the national Capitol building on Jan. 6 and the frequent accusations of intentional deception have caused many to ask, “What’s going on?” or “How can this happen?”
When we recognize that all of us, on every side, in every party, share a common humanity, we are faced with the possibility that the disturbing thoughts and behavior of others could just as easily be true of us. I could have ended up on the Capitol steps chanting for the death of elected officials. I could turn into an embittered troll spitting acid accusations at all opposition. There is a heart of darkness in each of us which, when fed, grows into ugly things.
Those ugly things are usually not big enough to make national news. My darkness may be misuse of food. It may be language that damages others. It may be destructive ambition. There is a long list of possibilities. Whatever the particulars, we know that we have both positive impulses in our souls and a persistent power of darkness.
Every generation attempts to gloss over, ignore or deny that darkness. It can be hard to dwell on. But history reveals that the darkness does not obey human will. It relishes being ignored, since willful ignorance contributes to the darkness. Denying the darkness is like saying that because the sun is bright there will never be night again.
We Christians call this daily and global darkness “sin.” When we sin, we fall short of our intended purpose, of what our Divine Creator longs for from us. The ancient teacher Paul of Tarsus described it to an ancient church: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The contemporary philosopher puts it more blandly: “Nobody’s perfect.” Over time, this failure brings guilt, shame and resignation.
The season of Lent is a time for getting real. It is a time to be honest and declare both that we’re not perfect and that we want to be better. We know that there is a darkness inside and that we want it flooded with light. We know that our hearts can be hard, but we want to be loving and good.
Many would prefer not to dwell on their own sin and the power of darkness. We say it’s pessimistic or depressing. But, for the sake of healing, we need to name the disease. We know that we can’t just ignore a fever and go on living without threat to ourselves and others. If our foot suddenly hurt too much to stand on, we wouldn’t say, “That’s depressing to talk about; I’m just going to pretend it’s fine.” We would get the problem diagnosed and seek healing.
Lent is the diagnosis that leads to the healing of Resurrection Sunday: In the face of human evil, we speak a word of hope. Jesus Christ passed through death and rose again to life. The evil that put Christ to death — sin — did not get the last word. Nor does evil in the present. The Spirit of God that raised Jesus works in us to heal the ravages of sin through faith, conversation, community, protest and reconciliation.
If the cold and snow of winter gives you any extra time inside, I invite you to join me in looking within and naming those places where the darkness needs light. And when you discover them, I invite you to join me in looking to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, who guarantees that in him, we will always have “the light of life” (recounted for us in the Gospel according to John 8:12).
Join me in the work of Lent and join the church in the great celebration of Easter. For when we acknowledge our sin and ask for Christ’s healing, God does amazing things.