Welcome! Peace be with you as we enter the season of Lent.
Lent is a season of fasting and repentance that reminds us, in an embodied way, that we have not yet reached the promised land. In this mortal life, we are on pilgrimage. God gives us nourishment, which can offer a foretaste of our final destination. But we’re not there yet.
The 40 days of Lent remind us that Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, facing temptation, completely dependent upon the Lord’s provision for food and water. Likewise, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, facing temptation. He fasted from food but fed upon the word of God (Matt. 4:4). Jesus is our pioneer in the wilderness, showing us that we need not build idols to receive true deliverance. Rather, in Christ, we are freed to live in dependence upon and active obedience to the Father.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we’re reminded: “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). The next 39 days build upon the reality that we are mortal creatures, utterly dependent upon God for each breath. We also recognize and repent of the ways in which we have been building idols for ourselves in the wilderness. Following Christ, we are called to a path of prayer, meditation upon scripture, and fasting — a different path through the wilderness. For this reason, many people choose to mark this season by taking on spiritual practices or giving things up. All of this leads to the commemoration of the moment when the promised land — the Temple
— Jesus Christ himself — brings together heaven and earth in his work on the cross (on Good Friday) and resurrection of Christ (on Easter).
In this guide, you’ll find a reflection for each of the seven weeks of Lent, beginning with the half week that starts on Ash Wednesday. Each week’s entry draws on themes from the seven chapters of The End of the Christian Life and includes a psalm to orient our lives and our practices within the Word of God, a brief reflection, a prompt for prayer, and suggestions for daily and weekly practices. As the introduction to The End of the Christian Life notes, the book itself is a journey, a Christ-shaped path of recognizing and repenting of the idols that bind us. It is a journey from darkness to light, culminating in the God of life revealed in the crucified and resurrected Christ. It brings readers on a pilgrimage to cultivate true Easter hope. As such, the book is an ideal companion in the season of Lent, though it was not written exclusively for that purpose. We invite you to use this guide in conjunction with your individual or group reading of The End of the Christian Life.
We are mortal. We are limited. We are dust. Yet, we are also beloved creatures, embraced by the Living God in Christ and given an astonishing hope and vocation on this earthly pilgrimage. Join us on this journey, as we deepen our hope
in the cross and resurrection of Christ on this dusty path.
Chapter 2: Two Views of Mortality: Is Death an Enemy or a Friend?
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
–Job 1:21 (NIV)
My elderly friend Walter always seemed thrilled to see me and anyone else he met. He embodied a gratitude and energy for life. Yet, still with
a smile on his face, he would tell me how he sure was thankful that he wasn’t going to live forever! He entered into each day he was given. But he also realized that the goodness of creaturely life is not static, separated from passing of time. He had lived many decades and was now in the final arc of his life. The Lord gave, and the Lord would take away. His family and fortune would return to dust. And the Lord would continue to be worthy of trust, worthy of praise.
As this chapter explored, scripture contains more than one view of death that can fit with our stories of dying. For Walter, dying was a dimension of a God-given arc of living. Even the losses and challenges in aging were approached as opportunities to deepen his trust in the One true source of life.
At other times, death strikes down a loved one, and we are undone, left speechless. As in the story of Melissa in the book, we cry out deeply and lament. This view of death is also scriptural. Death will be the final ene- my to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). In the meantime, death is a raw wound, a stinging offense. We can’t discern the logic of why God would allow the death of, and even take away, our loved one. It is beyond our human understanding.
As we walk the journey of Lent this season, we are invited to live as creatures who are dying. Whether death comes to us in a way similar to Walter or Melissa, we are invited to offer up to God the temporary gifts we have—of breath, of family, of material provision.
They all belong to God and will be taken away when “naked [we] will depart.” In gratitude for these temporary gifts, our Lord invites us to trust that he alone can deliver us from death.
• Daily: Whether we are young or old, ill or healthy, life is a gift, com- pletely dependent upon God the giver. At the end of each day this week, write down three gifts that you thank God for. These can be very mundane but are nevertheless significant—the softness of bedsheets, the smile of a family member, the delight of eating a pear. Thank God for these gifts and seek to be attentive to the many daily ways God provides for you.
• This Week: Do you know of someone like Walter, full of years, accept- ing the reality of their approaching death? Do you know someone who has lost a family member suddenly and unexpectedly, like in the story of Melissa? In a way that is fitting for the circumstance, reach out to that person this week.
• Reflect/Discuss: Review the discussion questions on page 71. Journal your responses, or if you’re in a group, share your thoughts with oth- ers. What questions, insights, and hopes do you carry with you from the reading into this coming week?
As you pray, thank the Lord for the good, but temporary, gifts of life, of breath, and of material possessions. Can you say with Job, no matter the circumstance, “May the name of the Lord be praised”?