The suffering that many of us face can take different forms. One physical manifestation in my life was once synchronized swimming. Although joyful, it was a brutally difficult sport; the physical strain of holding your breath underwater for almost a minute at a time, as well as intense pre-swimming workouts, were challenging at a minimum. For any synchronized swimmer or observer, nailing the routine as a synchronized unit on the exact beat is critical. As I heaved and counted the music, I would picture myself swimming the best I ever have—seeing myself at the top of the podium, no longer suffering. That simple act of believing in my triumph brought me hope and encouraged me to persevere.
Yet, Lent is not about the destination. It is about an intentional journey through the desert—subjecting ourselves to some level of suffering as a reminder of the arduous path Jesus followed. He had to suffer on the cross and die in order to ascend to heaven. And thus, I found a prophetic inspiration from the title of Psalm 121: A Song of Ascents.
This psalm is about how God protects us on earth. There is nowhere outside of God’s domain, which is a comfort when you find yourself in the desert. Even when we sleep, God keeps watch.
As we journey, we ought to find thanksgiving for the ability to continue our journey, “I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.” So, too, we must constantly strive to nurture not only our physical capabilities, but our faith. We ought to “…rekindle the gift of God that is within”, the gift of a God blessed with “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
So, my friends, let us not rush to the end. This Lenten journey is also about the ascension aspect of our journey. After all, Psalm 121 is not just a song of ascent, singular. It is a song of ascents, plural. David isn’t prophetically writing about the ascension of Jesus. He is writing about his ascension, and my ascension, and your ascension. “The Lord will keep your life,” writes David. God shades us during our Lenten journey through the desert until we reach our destination. That destination is not in the desert, and it’s not on the hill; rather, it is in heaven. “Let us pursue righteousness and seek the Lord”, acknowledging where we have come from and how we were shaped.
Dear Lord in heaven, I place my faith in you that no matter what trials I face on earth, I know you are keeping watch over me. Thank you for the example of ultimate perseverance embodied by Jesus and the salvation his suffering granted me. Thank you for the courage to persevere, as my brothers and sisters of every race, gender, and identity have for generations, until the time of our ascension. Amen.