The fasting and other Lenten rituals Christians practice take seriously the coming of Easter and what it represents. We are reminding ourselves to not only prepare for that momentous day on the Christian calendar, but also to try to make a serious effort at transformation, turning away from things in the past that have kept us from being our best.
In this way, Lent and Easter are about resurrection. And not just the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter certainly is about, but also about the transformation and resurrection of each of us which Easter continues to be about.
Lent often has this sort of dark patina to it. There's a sense that we must dwell on sins; that we have done much wrong and must be very penitent, because with Adam's sin we somehow all became unworthy. But it's not true, we are not unworthy at all.
The whole point of Jesus' teaching, life, death and resurrection is not that we are unworthy, but the very opposite, we are worthy. That's what the "For God so loved the world" part of John 3:16 is all about. Jesus did not do what he did - and God did do what God did- that first Holy Week because we have no worth; quite the opposite. What happened, happened because we were and are worth it. We are worthy.
Spring is for much of the world the season of transformation from the dark stark cold of winter to the bright green warmth and renewal of life. Lent too can be understood as a season of hope. There is a hope offered of spring-like renewal in us through Christianity, the following of Jesus' Way. Have we made mistakes? Yes. Are some of them big? Yes. Have we made worse mistakes or more than others? Probably some yes, some, no. But the past - whatever it is - cannot hold us down.
We should regret and we must work to not repeat mistakes. All the talk of ashes and rebirth at Lent reminds us that we can choose to place all those mistakes on the ash heap of time and from this moment onward arise like a phoenix in a new life.
Lent is the time of year when we reflect on that pile of ashes and Jesus' way - our way - out of it. That reflection can be disturbing, it can be humbling, but it is not because we are unworthy, it is because we are worthy of living a better life with more of Love, the God of Jesus, in it.
Jesus lived a life that tragically ended. Rome and even Jesus' followers thought his death on the cross meant that his body would return to earth, ashes to ashes. But like a phoenix, he arose from those ashes and lives on. He lives on in us. Here and now.
The church is the Body of Christ, and each of us are called to look inward and find the Christ within us and bring it out to the world as best we can, as much as we can, in each moment that we can.
There is another metaphor for the hope this season focuses on, the diamond. Ashes are carbon, and carbon is the very thing that creation in a certain way turns to diamonds. Lent is about the diamond Jesus' life is for us. It is also about how we can make diamonds of our life from whatever pile of ashes we find our self in this moment.
We are all diamonds in the making. Lent is a time when we give deep and meaningful thought to the truth and hope of that good news.
The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org.