One Lenten liturgy borrows the language of Joel 2 verbatim as the congregation sings, "Return to the Lord your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."
This is beautiful language, but it is also hard language to believe.
Now, this language is hard to believe because so many of our experiences lack grace and mercy. We live in a culture quick to anger. and where love is entirely fragile and quite fleeting. We find Joel's words hard to believe because our experience tells us that upon our return, we should expect more of the same.
Lent is a slow journey toward a different experience. The culture of God's kingdom challenges our pettiness and jealousy with the revelation of the once hidden God. In Jesus, the unbelievable attributes of God become conceivable because Jesus introduces us to new experiences. Rather than quick anger, Jesus meets our sin with compassion. Instead of an impotent love, Jesus introduces us to a love that gives sight to the blind, makes the lame to walk, opens the ears of the deaf, and even raises the dead. Though sin mars our view of God, Jesus returns our attention to the kind of world that God had in mind at the dawn of creation. One of wholeness and compassion, of togetherness and peace.
Our return, then, is to a foreign country that happens to be our homeland. In Lent, we relearn the lengths to which God is willing to go in order to redeem the world, and to return us all to communion with God. The disciplines of Lent help to reintroduce us to this culture, to this kingdom, in which God desires us all to live. A culture where we all, in the image of God, might be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Whatever your Lenten disciplines are, I pray that they are helping you, your church, your community, and our world to look more like this, for as we return to God, we become more like God.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.