In the Church, we are commemorating the season of Lent, officially a time devoted to fasting, abstinence and penitence. Usually one is greeted, probably by a fellow believer, with “What are you giving up for Lent?” This comes from the traditional thinking and practice of denying the pleasures of life for the more austere and somber side of life, to prepare for the great and solemn feast of Easter, when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection from death into life.
Lent, I believe, is a journey from “our end” to “our beginning.” I like to think of “our end” as the reality of our mortality; of our imperfection, of our sins and the fact that we will all die. So, without the lens of faith, death is “the end.” The journey of Lent is to be undertaken with faith, so that our life here on earth is not “the end.”
People of faith see this life as temporary, as a transiting from one life to the next. Lent is a time when we think of the next life, “the life everlasting.” We do this while immersing ourselves into all that life offers and affords us. Lent can be a daunting experience, especially if we immerse ourselves in its true spirit of fasting, abstinence and penitence. I think this is where the journey, through Lent, begins; at “our end.” We know we’re all going to die and leave life, and all that we know and have come to grow fond of and love, is going to end. During Lent, we can be bombarded with how temporary is life and that, if we don’t “make up” for the things that we haven’t done—usually the good things we haven’t done—then we will just end up, no pun intended, “at the dead-end;” like at the end of a road that just stops with nothing to look forward to, to experience or to relate and live for.
So, this is where “our beginning” comes. Lent is about “our end” because at its end, we begin to see, to know, to experience the beginning of new life, of unending life, of no “dead ends.” In the Gospel according to Mark 8:35 (NRSV) we read “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Ah, denial and denying oneself is classic Lenten reality. It is a classic part of the Lenten journey that I submit begins with “the end.” I also submit to you that such denial and denying is a true antidote to the dead-end road, to life as “the end.”
In the Gospel, Jesus says “follow me.” This certainly points to a journey, a life-long journey. And it is a journey of paradoxes, of contrary realities. Mark 8:36 (NRSV) comes into view here: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” The Lenten journey can be paradoxical, as its beginning is “the end” and its ending is “the beginning.”
I can only understand a journey that begins with an end and ends with a beginning, by seeing it through my lens of faith, that God, through His Son, promises us eternal life. This promise is fulfilled as “our beginning.” But it must be made real in “our end,” which is this life that you and I experience and share. It is a life not to be seen as an end in itself but as a means to an end, which is the beginning of life everlasting.
And that is what Easter is, the promise of everlasting life fulfilled, which is the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Journeying through Lent is about “our end,” our death. But at the end of Lent, comes Easter, which is about “our beginning.” But, not to worry. “Life is good!” This is a greeting that you’ve heard others exclaim. At Easter, I would change this greeting to “Life is good and is beginning!” As you journey through Lent, know that its end is really the beginning of many things to come. And then comes Easter, “our beginning.” Alleluia!
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Rev. John A. Hau’oli Tomoso † is a Social Worker and Episcopal Priest. He is a Priest Associate at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Wailuku and an on-call Chaplain at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Tomoso was graduated from St. Anthony Jr./Sr. High School, the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology) and Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (Masters of Social Work). In 2008, he retired from the civil service as the Maui County Executive on Aging. Tomoso is currently the Executive Director of the non-profit Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. His wife Susan is a 7th grade Language Arts Teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate School.