This morning I woke up to the news that American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis placed 5th in an event that she has dominated. Losing like this as the favourite is only half the story. One must go back 4 years to Torino. There, with a near impossible-to-lose lead in the final race – she lost. Believing she had it won, Lindsey did a little showboating over the penultimate hill. She lost her balance and crashed, watching the winner fly past her. For 4 years she has endured that video over and over. It didn’t matter that she had dominated this sport for the following years. It didn’t matter that her harshest critics were people who likely watched this sport only once in 4 years. Over and over she said, ‘I made a mistake.’
The build-up to Vancouver included words thrown around that we typically hear in the church: words like redemption. Lindsey needed to win the gold medal to redeem herself for her moment of premature celebration that lost her the gold medal in Torino. Whether or not she took on the mantle of this language, I don’t know. But the media has had a field day with it. Now with her loss yesterday, it appears it will continue. The headline this morning gave its verdict: ‘No medal, no redemption.’ Other commentators remarked that the images and stigma of Torino still remain. People can be very unforgiving; even worse we seem to relish it when others are torn down from their pedestals (ones we built and put them on the in the first place!).
Lindsey enters her own wilderness as Christians around the world enter into the wilderness of Lent today on Ash Wednesday. Today, we hear the words reminding us who we are – we are mortal, we are dust. Our lot in life seems to be that of reruns of video shown over and over of our mistakes, with no redemption in sight – only an unforgiving world that tries to tell us that this life is all there is. But our story does not end with a return to dust. Our redemption is already secure, and we didn’t have to do anything about it. God’s redemption comes to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus – the path where our Lenten journey leads. The forgiveness of our sins has been secured already and we wait for the redemption of our bodies in the resurrection at the end when Jesus returns. God’s forgiveness is not dependent on us waiting for years for us to try again. God offers his forgiveness to us now.
Therefore, we do not enter Lent with a hope of redeeming ourselves. We do not attempt to earn God’s favour my picking up a new prayer practice or giving up something we like. In Lent, we remember that we are dust, but in Christ, God is transforming us. We are clearing away the obstacles we have put up that try to shut God out. God doesn’t stay on the other side, but keeps bursting through the walls we build up. Lent is one of those ways God does this each year. Lent asks us to examine ourselves and, with the Spirit’s leading, asks, What are we doing with the forgiveness Jesus has offered? Have we confused church work with work for the Kingdom of God? Are we living out the love we have received in Christ by loving others? Have we forgotten that in Christ God has already redeemed and forgiven us for our sins and loves us with a passion? In Lent, God transforms us into who God wants us to be – not who the media or the advertisers or even our friends and family want us to be. Nor do we have to look for ways to bring about our own redemption.
Remembering that we are dust frees us to say, ‘I made a mistake. I have sinned.’ We don’t need to keep the ‘I’m perfect’ mask because Jesus is much better at responding to this than Lindsey’s critics, who I hope will find a way to leave this poor woman alone and remember their own mistakes when interrogating her! For us this Lent, we can remember that God has already redeemed us in Christ. We can celebrate that!