If there is one thing to look forward to here in the Midwestern part of our country, it is spring. I can remember long and brutal winters that seemed to hang around forever. I recall waiting with longing for the daylight to lengthen and the temperatures to rise. Everyone seems eager to see that first green shoot come up, or perhaps the first hardy robin to arrive. It’s a time of anticipation and preparation for good things to come.
The Lenten season is a long road of anticipation as well. As far as can be determined, the word Lent comes to us from an Anglo-Saxon word for spring. As early Christians anticipated the coming of Easter in the springtime, they would prepare themselves during this penitential period. Many of the devout would fast during the Lenten season in order to reflect on their sins and the consequences they bring. Forty days seemed an appropriate length of time to prepare for the resurrection celebration, possibly recalling Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. Since it was thought inappropriate to fast on Sundays, they were not counted in the forty days.
No matter how long it may take for spring to arrive, the road to Easter is much longer and more difficult. For if Lent is a time of reflecting on our sins, where is the end of it all? Not in forty days, or forty years, or centuries, for that matter, could we contemplate the magnitude of our sin. From the height of our hypocrisy to the depths of our depravity, we have transgressed our Father’s Law in thought, word, and deed. Confronting our sin is a gut-wrenching, guilt-ridden experience for the faithful, for we know that the just punishment for transgressing God’s holy Law is death, hell, and damnation. But there is spring to look forward to—crucifixion, redemption, and Jesus’ resurrection day!
Yet, as difficult as our Lenten journey may be, the road Christ traveled was infinitely worse. Jesus was born into this world with a plan in hand. He knew what was required of Him—absolute perfection. As the day of Jesus’ crucifixion drew nearer, the onslaughts of Satan, of the world around Him, and even of His own followers increased. At every turn there was temptation and hardship trying to dissuade Christ from fulfilling His redemptive mission. How did Jesus keep His mind on the mission? How could He endure the hardships and pitfalls on that long road to spring? “Jesus . . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus looked beyond the stony and tortured path of Lent to His destination. There at His Father’s side, where He now prepares a place for us!
In order for us to make it through this life to the next, we need to focus on Jesus, Who already made it through. He suffered sin, death, and hell for us, that we might be His own. We can believe that “in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Let us not be more concerned or consumed with the journey through this life than we are with the destination. Let us follow in the bloody footprints of our Savior during the long road of Lent, but let us also remember to focus on the destination, past the cross of shame, and on to the resurrection to life eternal!
David W. Bernthal is the principal of Luther Memorial School in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.