Living Into Lent - Finding Joy in the Ashes

By the Rev. Pamela Leach

"Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey's end. But we know that it will be a road of boundless mercy." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Every Ash Wednesday, we hear the words, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." We are reminded that sitting in ashes was a sign of both mourning and repentance in biblical times. So then, Lent is a time of recognizing our mortality and of cultivating a penitent heart. These are somber tasks.

Yet, in the very first week of our Lenten study, we find a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship, "Discipleship means joy." Joy in the midst of our sorrowful penitence? How can Living into Lent be a joyful study?

As we embark on this Lenten journey, it is this juxtaposition of joy and sorrow that caught my attention. On the one hand, we read about Jesus calling his disciples friends. And, surely, there is a closeness to which we are called in following Jesus - a companionship with Immanuel, God with us, that is so very humbling and appealing, to which our hearts say, "YES! I will follow."

Yet, then I read the story of the rich young ruler, and wonder, "Is that me?" Is there something in my life that keeps me from being able to follow Jesus fully? Do I really understand the cost of following Jesus?

That is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks his fellow Christians in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. Through Martin Luther in the 16th century, the church's understanding of the magnitude of God's grace was revitalized. After 400 years of the centrality of the Reformation watch words, "grace alone" in the Lutheran tradition, Bonhoeffer posed the idea that even grace could become an idol, untouchable in its importance, placed above the very call of God on our lives. He felt grace had become "cheap," and the people of God no longer had a sense of how difficult it can be to follow Jesus. In his book, Bonhoeffer lays out what he understands the cost of discipleship to be. In his life, it meant returning to Germany during WWII to work with the resistance to the Third Reich. It cost him his life.

Still, there is evidence of joy Bonhoeffer's life right up to his last day in a concentration camp. In this Lenten journey, we enter a place of incongruous ideas where we are called both to remember our sin and mortality, and at the same time to hear Jesus, God with us, saying follow me, my friend. We are reminded following Jesus leads us to the cross and yet we are told to expect joy in this journey. How will we hold these realities of the Christian life in tension? How will these ideas challenge us to follow Jesus more closely?

May you have joy in the journey!

Throughout the Lenten season, small groups are meeting to discuss Living Into Lent by David McKim. As small group members chew on this text and the conversations that come out of it, they will share their thoughts and questions here on the blog. Check back often, join the conversation in the comment section, and read along if you’d like! (Copies of the book are for sale in the church office 903-597-6317.)

Many thanks to Rev. Pamela Leach, who contributed to this post.