This year, I made a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym at least three times every week. It seemed like a positive, but still not overly ambitious, goal. Do you want to know how many times I have been to the gym since New Year’s Day? Zero. I haven’t stepped foot in a gym. I have, on the other hand, eaten an inordinate amount of ice cream.
Apparently, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.
It’s not that we don’t desire change. Most of us want to live more faithfully, more purposefully, more joyfully. Most of us want to spend more time with our families, community, and God. And yet, it always seems to be an aspiration for the future. We say we’ll change—when we’re not so busy, when we don’t need to worry about bosses or paychecks or the losses that come with living.
The problem is that these changes seem to belong to a different world that’s just not here yet.
You hear preachers like me ask you to be selfless, to volunteer, to love your enemies, to pray and worship, to advocate justice and read Scripture, to honor Sabbath each week, and you think: yeah, that all sounds good, but I live in the real world, where I don’t have time or energy for all that; and even if I tried, the rest of the world would still go on being its busy, selfish, hurtful place.
With so much suffering, the truth is that the world of the cross can seem impossibly distant from the world of the resurrection.
Yet, the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10, insists that the time for discipleship, for faith, for change, is now. “Now is the acceptable time,” says Paul. “Now is the day of salvation!” Not when things get better, but now.
This may seem like an odd message for Lent, when we spend 40 days waiting for Easter, waiting for the world to change.
But Lent isn’t about waiting for Easter. It’s about getting ready for Easter. It’s about living as if Easter is coming. It’s about cutting away the old world from our life—all the anxiety, all the busyness, all the materialism, all the ego and greed, all the divisions and hate, all the unbelief—and creating a life that looks like the kingdom of God. A unified life of peace, and love, and worship. A life devoted to caring for the least of these, to lifting up the orphan and the widow, the poor and the stranger. A life that recognizes in each moment the presence of God and proclaims that presence to the world.
Paul believes this is possible because, for Paul, the cross (that old world of death, of sin) and the resurrection (that new world of life, of salvation) are now linked. And the link is Jesus Christ. His sacrifice, his love, overcame the division. He climbed up on that cross and broke it—because he refused to live by its terms. He refused to condemn his enemies. He refused to hate. Refused the easy way out. Refused cynicism and despair. He choose to live like Easter was already upon him. And because he made that choice, he became the highway between this world and God’s.
If we wait till we feel different, till the world has changed, we will never become the people we want to be. The only way we get there is if we choose today to live like we belong to God’s kingdom now.
But here’s why this isn’t just another New Year’s resolution: regardless of what choice we make, Christ has already made that choice for us. We have already been claimed by God’s love, by this new and beautiful world we find so elusive. We’re not being asked to change our lives; we’re being asked to believe that God already has.
I hope that you believe, that you choose to live as if you are already a citizen of God’s new world. But the miracle is that, even if you don’t, even when the old world crowds in and claims dominion over you, God already sees you as the reconciled and beautiful child of God you want to be. God sees you this way, because God looks at you through Christ.
Lent is your chance to believe, and to know that even when you don’t believe, God still does.