I can still remember the bright colors and the incredible costumes. Growing up as a child on the island of Trinidad, it was hard to ignore the Carnival season each year. Trinidad is known around the world for having one of the most festive, vibrant and popular Carnival celebrations highlighted by competitions between various calypso and steel pan bands and massive street parades. Little did I know about the debauchery and drunkenness that were also so prevalent in those days as well. All of this revelry right before the holiest days on the Christian calendar. The irony of these two events happening back to back was not lost on me as I grew up and eventually realized how they were so closely related. In a world seeking its own redemption through acts of penance and service this was simply a balancing of the scales. Why not have lots of fun with a little sin thrown in for good measure if you were going to spend the next forty days earning God’s favor.
Celebrating Easter has always been a little hard for me. Singing Christmas carols and opening Christmas presents while thinking about the birth of the one who came to save me is a lot easier and a lot more fun. Contemplating what Christ went through on my behalf at the cross is a lot more sobering. For the early Christians the agony surrounding the events of Jesus’s crucifixion was held in tension with the fact that he had risen again and appeared in person to so many of his followers. The resurrection gave meaning and depth to the suffering and loss they had experienced. It also helped them have the hope they would need to endure suffering of their own.
I don’t like to be reminded of hard things. It is a lot easier to be blissfully ignorant than to pay attention to the realities of the world around me. As an American evangelical this can be a daily temptation. Why learn about the suffering in Syria, Egypt, Ukraine or the Sudan when there are so many other things to be distracted by? The re-igniting of the culture wars, opinions on the latest NetFlix series or results of the latest sporting event are far more interesting and fun to “chew on”.
The truth is, we live in a messy world and it is getting messier all the time. For evangelicals that like to point out the rapid acceptance of all things homosexual in this day and age as a clear sign of the end times, this has been a pretty sobering week. Instead of pointing fingers, we have had to hear news and accusations about scandal and sexual impropriety by Bill Gothard and sexual abuse at Jesus People USA. This coming on the heels of so many sad stories of sexual sin that has taken place at missionary boarding schools is more than sobering, it is revolting.
So what do I want to give up for Lent this year?
- Giving a deaf ear to those hurting and in need right around me
- Ignoring the suffering of people “so far away”
- Pretending that being a born again Christian means having it all together
- Feeling self-righteous when I see a Christian leader stumble
- Wishing all the bad news would just go away
As I look at that list, I am struck by the impossibility of it all and that may be the most important point. Left to my own devices, I will always seek a little Carnival before Lent – always trying to keep the scales of sin and good works in just the right balance. It will always be a losing battle without the cross. Only as I embrace the suffering and agony of my dying savior will I fully be able to understand the power of His resurrection. Just as I am tempted to give up on all this, I am wonderfully reminded of the best gift ever given. Jesus did not leave me alone to wallow in my doubt and sin. He gave me His Holy Spirit to provide me the power to even contemplate the starting point for real change – repentance. So as the Lenten season begins this week, I will be celebrating the joy of that precious gift and learning to repent and forgive even as the world seems to be going crazy.