The Anxiety of Lent

Mark 8:31-38
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Last week Jesus went into the wilderness as is always the case on the first Sunday in Lent, and there he met us where we have been lingering for what feels like a year. The liturgical season came around again to meet us where we have been this whole time. And with that, we entered lent as the church, remembering that we are ash, and our alleluias put away. 

Our Lenten journey continues this week with some contradictory statements from Jesus. Statements that speak to the way Lent challenges us to examine ourselves: If try to save your life, you lose it. If you want to follow Jesus, deny yourself. If you want to live, you must die first. 

These kinds of contradictions define the the way that Jesus encounters creation, encounters us.  And in the season of Lent we take the time to consider what these contradictions from Jesus mean. 

Jesus begins by teaching his disciples that the son of man must be suffer, be rejected and die before rising again after three days. And Peter doesn’t like it, and he lets Jesus know. But like an old fashioned school teacher Jesus sends Peter to the corner of the room with the dunce cap. Jesus does not take kindly to Peter’s rebuke. Jesus has no interest in Peter’s fears. Jesus is not worried about dying, Jesus is talking about life. 

Peter is busy worrying, while Jesus is telling him, and the disciples and crowds, about God. And yet usually we are still with Peter, and these days more than ever we know about worrying about drying. Our lives are full of worry and fear and other myriads of concerns, so much so it is hard to live. Our fears and our anxiety seemingly control us and the world around us. And rightly so… we continue to live in an extraordinary time. Peter gets it, what is Jesus missing?

It is hard to not to have our fear and anxieties fed by the world daily. Turn on the news for a couple minutes and there is no escaping worry. Pickup a newspaper and try to find story without the word pandemic or COVID-19. Check social media or the internet and find people angered by government actions, whether they think pandemic measures are too much or too little. 

Fear makes us feel powerless and week, unable to see any hope. Anxiety has a hold over our economy, over our politics, over our communities, over our churches… over our very bodies. Like Peter, our fears cause us to do things that don’t make sense, like scolding our teachers or speaking before we think. Our fears hold us back, keep us from acting, keep us from risking, keep us from experiencing the world around us because we cannot imagine things turning out well for us. Like Peter, our fear and our anxiety prevents us from seeing God in our midst. 

This confrontation of our fears and anxiety is one of the inevitable meetings of Lent. Our fear makes it hard, impossible even, to see what God is up to in the world, what is God is doing in our very lives, despite our fear and anxiety. 

Peter’s fear is keeping him from hearing what Jesus is doing. And if Peter could get past his fear of Jesus’ death, he might take a moment to think a little longer about the rest of Jesus’ statement. Peter is planted too deep in his anxiety… he cannot hear the part that he should be asking about. “After three days rising again?”

But even when Peter misses the point, Jesus continues to make it. Jesus is not above contradiction. In fact, Jesus knows that it is in seeming contradiction that God’s work is done. Die and after three days rise again Jesus says. Lose your life to save it Jesus says. Take up your cross, follow and you will live, Jesus says. 

Peter is so busy being afraid and anxious, that he cannot hear that with God, death will lead to something new. 

So often, Peter’s fear is our fear. So often, we just can’t shake our fear to see God’s work around us. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing the work. It just means, like Peter, we are going to be really surprised when we peer into that empty tomb on Easter morning. 

It is easy for us to look at Peter and wonder why he didn’t get it, but God’s work among us is just as shocking and just as hard to imagine. Jesus tells Peter that crucifixion is coming, and Jesus tells us that there is drying is happening all around us. Of course there is the tragedy of human death, but there is also all kinds of other deaths. Death and change. Changing communities and neighbourhoods, dying relationships, dying habits and ways of being, dying and changing institutions and structures. Our past is and so much of what was an old world is just slipping through our fingers, and there is a new world knocking on our doors. 

And all this makes us anxious. 

 Yet, Jesus isn’t giving us a warning, Jesus isn’t trying to get our hearts racing or making want to just pull the covers over our head and stay in bed each morning. 

Jesus is pointing us to the places where God is at work. 

Jesus is telling us what God’s work looks like. God’s activities in the world simply do not ease our fears or quell our anxieties. God’s work does not ease us into the future, or protect us from the unknown. Instead, God is doing something much more amazing than fitting into a box that our anxiety can handle. God is turning death into life. God is transforming us into disciples and evangelists. God is reconciling a broken world. God is showing us what it means to gain life. 

God is showing that us letting go of all the things that we hold on to, all the things that we fear losing – a world that we spent so much time and energy holding on to, that seems so foreign now –  God is showing us that fearing these things is not living. But rather, God’s version of life means being open to future, open to the other, open to God doing something completely unexpected in our midst. 

Jesus will have none of Peter’s fears today, nor will Jesus have any of ours. Instead, Jesus calls us to let go. Let go and God’s activities in the world will completely surprise and shock us. And still, even if we don’t let go, like Peter cannot, there is going to be an empty tomb waiting for us when we least expect it. 

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