In today’s production oriented society, it is not uncommon to hear our fellow laborers exclaim at the end of a long and exhausting work day, “Where did the day go?” At the end of the calendar year, it has become commonplace to hear our fellow citizens say, “Where did the year go?” And when Christmas and Easter arrive each year, it is unfortunately all too common to hear our brethren in Christ say, “Where did Advent and Lent go?” Will it happen that at the end of our lives, we will echo these sad sentiments to our children, and say with tears in our eyes, “Where did my life go?” Let it not be so with us! With only a few days remaining before Lent, let us begin our reflection upon this most solemn season, in order that this Lent may be for us the journey of our lives. Why does the Church impose this season of repentance? Why do the followers of Jesus make acts of reparation for forty days? To answer these questions properly, we must again return to the story of salvation history, and consider our own lives in light of God’s grand plan for mankind.
Recall that in the beginning, God placed man in a paradise of delight and offered him participation in his own divine life. However, Adam and Eve listened not to the life-giving words of the Creator, but accepted the words of death from the mouth of the Serpent, who flattered them with the thought of achieving eternal life apart from God. To their bitter sorrow, the pair discovered the lie of the devil, and rather than eternal life, they found only death. It is from this act of disobedience that all of mankind became inheritors of a nature divorced from divinity, receiving a nature joined not to God, as was the plan in the beginning, but rather disfigured by sin and yoked to death.
It is for this reason that the Son of God was born of the Virgin and died upon the cross. The Word of God, Creator of the World, could not stand to see his creation bound to death, and thus he took to himself human nature, reuniting God and man in the person of Jesus. With that human nature, God entered into death, being crucified upon the cross, and buried in the tomb. With that human nature, God burst asunder the bars of Hades, and gave life back to mankind, for just as when light enters into darkness and darkness is no more, so when Life enters death, death is destroyed. At the death of Christ, as Saint John Chrysostom explained in his famous Easter sermon, Hell “took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.” In other words, the Devil grasped what he thought was mortal, and discovered immortality, and in that act, the grip of death upon mankind was destroyed.
Each one of us, inheritors of a nature joined to death, now has hope, for our Savior has walked our nature forth from the tomb. But that is not the end of the story. If we are to escape eternal death and be freed from the curse of Adam, we must become partakers of Christ; we must somehow enter into the mystery of Christ’s resurrection. This is where Lent fits into the picture. Lent is our journey to the day of the resurrection. Lent is, for us, a time to be united completely to Christ, in order that when He walks forth from the tomb on the glorious day of Easter Sunday, we might walk with him. However, one event must of necessity stand in the way of that day, for no one comes forth from the tomb who has not first entered into it. It is now our challenge to become so united to Christ during the forty days of Lent, that when the day of the crucifixion is before us, we, like the good thief, may willingly die with God, in order that we may also live with Him. No one will rise on Easter morning who has not first been nailed to the cross with Jesus.
With only forty days to make our journey, let us begin now to prepare, so that at the end of Lent we may not say, “Where did all the time go?” but rather, “Christ is risen, and I have risen with him!” Let us make it our goal that through fasting, confession, penance, and almsgiving, we may accept willingly the death that our first parents dealt to all of mankind, in order that we may be counted among those who, on the glorious day of the resurrection, will rise with Christ and live with him forever.