“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Dorothy Sayers writes that to make the Easter story into something that neither startles, shocks, terrifies, nor excites is “to crucify the Son of God afresh.” Certainly that would have been unthinkable for Jesus’ first followers, who experienced it firsthand: the heady excitement of his entry into Jerusalem, the traitorous cunning of Judas and the guilty recognition of their own cowardice, the terror of his slow suffocation, and finally the disarming wonder of an empty grave and a living body resurrected from the dead.

As for us, his latter-day disciples, few would deny the magnitude or drama of these events. But how many of us embrace their pain and promise? How many of us, even at Easter, give Christ’s death and resurrection any more attention than the weather? To observe Lent is to strike at the root of such complacency. Lent (literally “springtime”) is a time of preparation and is traditionally for “giving things up” balanced by “giving to” those in need. Yet whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose—an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures.

Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church’s springtime. Put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. In him—in his suffering and death, his resurrection and triumph—we find our truest joy.

Such joy is costly, however. It arises from the horror of our sin, which crucified Christ. Lent is a time to let go of excuses for failings and shortcomings; a time to stop hanging on to whatever shreds of goodness we perceive in ourselves; a time to ask God to show us what we really look like.

And yet our need for repentance cannot erase the good news that Christ overcame all sin. His empty tomb turns our attention away from all that is wrong with us and with the world, and spurs us on to experience the abundant life he promises. To discover Christ is to discover the appalling strangeness of divine mercy, and the love from which it springs.

Adapted from Bread and Wine