The school cafeteria always served fish sandwiches on Fridays during Lent. I hated most things from the school cafeteria and wasn’t too fond of fish to begin with. Combine the two and it made for some hungry Friday afternoons. For the longest time I thought this was what Lent was all about. Fish on Fridays. The symbol for Christians was an icthus, or a fish. I thought it was related.

Like so many things in the Christian faith. I didn’t get it. A few years later, I thought I did. Lent meant giving something up. Giving up sodas or my watching 90210 for forty days would somehow better help me understand the sacrifice Christ made for me on the cross. If he could lay down his life, maybe I could lay off the caffeine for awhile. I never chose anything too difficult to give up. I always picked something that I would miss, but would be good for me anyways. Hey, I can be holy and try to lose weight too. Christ didn’t really have that option. He couldn’t choose between french fries, candy or music downloads. He didn’t have any nasty habits or vices to set aside for forty short days. He had to give it all. Just like we are asked to do. And most of us do. In little itty bitty spurts. We surrender. We occasionally even surrender everything. Only to pick most of it back up even before we get off of our knees. Christ didn’t really have that luxury either. His hands were nailed down.

So maybe I still don’t quite get it, but a I do have more of the picture. A few days ago I went to an Ash Wednesday service. There is something holy about a preacher smearing ashes on your forehead and telling you that you are forgiven. Saying those words outloud just for me. I know them. I have read them. I have heard them preached to congregations. It is just sometimes hard to remember that they are for me. Even me. Just me. In spite of me. Really realizing that I am forgiven. All those sins. The little ones like making personal copies at work, to the not so little ones that come slipping out of my mouth are wiped clean. Just like that.

But it wasn’t just like that. The cost was big and huge and painful. The ashy cross on my forehead represents one that was real. Lent is about that. About the cost of our forgiveness. About what Christ gave up. About preparing for that cross. And maybe, for just a breif period, trying to carry it for a little while.

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