By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
– Genesis 3:19 ESV
Holiday seasons, while often marked with joyful anticipation and excitement, are also often accompanied by feelings of sorrow and longing. The death of a loved one, the loss of employment, or the coinciding of a holiday with a natural disaster can take a season set aside for celebration and imbue it with heaviness. With the season of Lent, however, we are invited to enter into a time of contemplation where loss and longing are front and center. Lent begins with the sober reminder that we “are dust” and it is “to dust” we shall return.
At the very beginning, when man and woman enjoyed perfect fellowship with our Creator, a decision was made that had everlasting consequences. Rather than trusting God and His perfect will, Adam and Eve wanted to be the masters of their universe and chose to disobey God. As sin entered the world, so did a loss of harmony in nature, and most gravely, a gulf that eternally separated God and his creatures from one another. In the weeks leading to Easter, the consequences of sin are cause for reflection on what life was supposed to be like. As we face the struggles of our work, the conflicts that arise in our relationships, and the unsteadiness that often marks our day to day relationship with God, we see a world bent by the weight of sin. We are reminded of our “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” and the eager anticipation we have for “our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
We then turn our eyes to gaze upon the God-man, who entered into our suffering by sharing in all of the moments we experience as people. Homelessness, hunger, temptation, rejection from friends, and the loss of loved ones were all a part of the Messiah’s journey. Then, in the culmination of his mission, Jesus is sentenced to death, tortured, and nailed to a cross. We see in the cross that this is the kind of sacrifice and loss that is necessary to make restitution for what was first lost in the garden. The loss of innocence in the garden, required the loss of the One who was truly innocent on the cross.
On the cross, however, is an offering that points to life. In Jesus’s death, we see that the loss is not final and the longing will not go unanswered. After three days, Jesus rose from the grave and pronounced victory over death and sin. In Jesus’ victory, we have been given access to our Heavenly Father, something that was impossible just three days prior. We see that our losses, from those that we love, to the reality of indwelling sin, will not remain forever. We know this because the grave came the empty tomb. Out of death, there came true life. In the end, in Lent we learn to yearn for the promise of Easter.