Why do we mourn? Has God not conquered death? Why do we fast? Has God not filled the hungry with good things? Why, when Christ has overcome the grave, when the morning stars sing together and all the sons and daughters of God shout for joy, do we sing a funeral dirge?
Lent, it seems, must be a mistake. We already know how the story ends. It ends with Christ glorified, death defeated, and life eternal. Yet for forty days, we sit stricken in the dust like Job, clothed with sackcloth and ashes while the glory of the resurrection awaits us. At times, our efforts during Lent can seem empty and shallow.
There is, however, a purpose to our prostrations. Lenten sacrifice is not a self-help exercise. One does not give up meat on Fridays to lower one’s cholesterol or abstain from social media to improve the quality of one’s sleep. We do not cry because tears release endorphins to improve our mood. We weep because there are things worth weeping about. Sorrow is very real and it pierces us deeply. But there is a truth, deeper still, which proclaims, “If we are united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
The day before my grandfather died, he lay on his bed with his family surrounding him. Doubtless feeling the hand of death upon his shoulder, he did something very strange: he began to sing. With a frail but hopeful voice, he prayed:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me…
When his song was finished, he cried out, with tears in his eyes, “God is so good! He died for me!” He saw eternity with brilliant clarity.
Our gratitude is most profound when our sorrow is most poignant. Death closes in around us until there is nothing left to cling to but the grace of God, and in that grace alone can we find true thankfulness. Our offerings of Lenten asceticism are droplets spilled from souls overflowing with praise. To give something up for Lent is an act of generosity—we cast our gifts into the bottomless pit of God’s mercy, and the more we lament our insufficiency, the more he fills us with his grace.
There is a mournful harmony in our prayers, one that echoes like a tolling bell. There is, in the dust on our foreheads, the dust of all that came before us as well as the dust of the grave. Lent is a funeral—mine and yours. Our old selves are crucified with Christ, but the hope of the resurrection gives voice to joy. I am reminded of a passage from the Book of Common Prayer, spoken at the burial of the dead:
All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Lent is no easy burden to bear, but take heart. Though we are lost, yet shall we be found. Though we are blind, yet shall we see. Though we die, yet shall we live. As we go down to the dust this Lent, let us raise our voices in a funeral song—a song of praise.
Nathan is a sophomore in Franklin College studying Music.