“Miserable offenders, spare thou them,” the congregation intoned as I bowed my head. The Church I usually feel so uplifted by felt transformed into a place of “self-derision” and “self-mutilation” lifted from a page of Nietzsche. Having spent my Sunday being reminded of God’s great love and open-armed freedom, it was hard to understand why, at this Ash Wednesday service, I was repeating that I was wretched in his sight.
The Lectionary for today contains core passages in the account of sin. The snake convinces a wavering Eve to eat the apple in Genesis. God promises to forgive the guilt of our inequities if we come before him in Psalm 32. St. Paul provides a thorough reasoning that since sin entered the world through one man, we have been redeemed also by one man, Jesus Christ. Finally, the Gospel reading is Jesus’s forty-day trek into the wilderness where he fasted and was tempted.
So why do we do Lent? We could say that if we fast what is dear to us, be it sweets, alcohol or social media, we are turning off the lesser lights in our life to focus on the true Light. Perhaps we could say that if we do a good deed every day we will walk closer to God and be better Christians. Or maybe Lent, as Nietzsche would argue, is self-flagellation to make people feel guilty of their depravity as the only way to drive them to the pews.
But as I sat in this Ash Wednesday service I thought of Jesus’s fasting, which is, as some would say, the first Lent. There are many reasons given for why Jesus would want to do undertake this desert pilgrimage. For example, preparing himself and his relationship with his Father would fuel his ministry, but in Matthew 4 we don’t get an explanation. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.” He was passively led (άνηχθη). I don’t think he knew the reason behind it other than to obey. The logic of God’s command to Eve wasn’t apparent to her either because “the tree was good for food, it was a delight to the eyes and it made one wise.” She chose to disobey, but who could blame her when the command made no sense.
If you are in any way on the fence about Lent, I would urge you to join in, and not for any reasonable idea of gain, but as a remembrance. For if you fast when you don’t know why, you will be walking the path away from the Jordan to the place where Jesus spent forty days. May your Lent be a window into the life of Christ so you can bear his joys and sorrows more and more every day, so that come Eastertide, you might be able to understand a little bit more, all that his great love has done.
Angela Eichhorst ’22 is a sophomore in Dunster studying Classics and Comparative Religion.