Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Lent: Participating in Christ's Suffering & Entering into the Pascal Mystery
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” –Philippians 3:10-11 (TNIV)
Lent is an extraordinary opportunity for us as Christians—as members of Christ’s body—to join with Christ in his sufferings. The forty days of Lent come from Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Since the early church, believers have set aside the forty days leading up to Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter as a time to participate with Christ in preparation for his passion and resurrection.
Participating with Christ
Writing Philippians toward the end of his life, Paul exclaims: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). In the opening quote from Philippians, the Apostle tells us what that straining looks like: it means “participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (3:10).
To join Christ’s suffering, then, is something to which we are all called. Paul labels it a honor! He tells the Philippians—and us be extension—that we have been accorded such a privilege: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (1:29).
To be a genuine Christian is to die with Christ, as Paul explains at length in Romans 6:1-14. Paul saw his own suffering as united with Jesus’ passion: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
Following in Christ’s Footsteps
Jesus makes it clear: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Apostle Peter—whose, according to church history, was crucified upside down on a cross—says that we are to “suffer for doing good” because “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1Peter 2:2-21).
Lent is all about following in Christ’s footstep. This is called the “imitatio Christi,” the imitation of our Lord in the sense of joining with him and following in his very footsteps.
While few of us will be martyred for our faith, we are able to participate in some small sense in Lent as we set aside our desires through some form of fasting, turn our focus away from our selves by giving to others, and center ourselves afresh on the Lord through prayer.
As we do so in Lent, we somehow enter into—participate in—the Pascal Mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. These are not simply events two thousand years ago to be remembered. Much rather, they are realities into which we have been invited to participate and share with Christ!
© 2015 Glenn E. Myers