Fifth Week of Lent: March 13-19
Reflection - Mike Harder

Having grown up Catholic, I am no stranger to the practices of the Lenten season. As a kid, I looked forward to Ash Wednesday and getting out of school for half the day to get my forehead smudged with last year’s charred palm branches. Then began the fasting from certain foods, alcohol, a favorite past time, or one’s pet vice. Lent involved practicing self-denial, prayers of repentance and meditation on Scriptures based in Christ’ suffering.

All, in a pursuit of holiness … a reorienting of one’s life in Jesus.

Lent is a season of self reflection that can recalibrate your life compass toward true north. It reminds you of the vanities we all too often pursue as we trade the great for good.

Much of what we traditionally engage in during lent is helpful for we creatures who are inclined toward distractions in the hurriedness of life, forgetting our commitments and good intentions from the last season. As we sing in the hymn “Come Thou Fount,” we are creatures “prone to wander.” So it’s good form to enter into these spiritual disciplines.

But there is more to Lent than self-reflection, or reflection on Christ’s sacrifice, for that matter. If we stay at the foot of the cross, or simply navel gaze in pursuit of holiness, we may fail to actually capture the heart of Lent and what it points us toward.

God’s love wrapped up in the incarnation reaches a climax – a victory at the end of this season. In his cross and empty tomb we receive his ultimate mercy and thus triumph over our foes of sin and death.

The apostle Paul says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, NRSV)

The trail of Lent takes us to the cross next Friday and then to the empty tomb a few days later.

Divine mercy deserves worship, reflection and repentance. But it should take us further in. If we allow ourselves to follow Jesus to his cross and into the empty tomb beyond, we discover life!

If we follow Jesus, we find ourselves not just in reflection of his sacrifice for us; we’re inclined to go beyond to another form of worship – extending his life and mercy to others. He came, “bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free.”

When you bask in God’s mercy, it transforms your heart and it enables you to become merciful toward others. As it says in 1 John, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19 NRSV). His mercy transforms our human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of his faithful and sacrificial love, to become a people of mercy.

As we move toward Easter, keep reflective and penitent; but also look for opportunity to extend the mercy of Christ you have received to the marginalized and broken – a neighbor in need of a listening ear, a coworker in need of a prayer, a homeless teenager in need of a meal.

As we follow after Jesus, we come more to understand his words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, NRSV). 

To read more Lenten reflections, visit our Lent/Easter page and download our Lent Prayerbook to follow along with us this season!