Ash Wednesday – The Absurd Claim

As many readers will know, Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. It’s a day that recognizes 40 days until the passion of the cross, and it’s a brutal reminder of our own mortality. Many traditions hold a service where the ash from last year’s palms (from Palm Sunday) are applied to the congregants’ foreheads in the sign of the cross. “Dust you began and of dust you will become,” or something of the like is said as the ash institutes the start of the spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

For this Wednesday, A Year with C.S. Lewis has a reading from Mere Christianity titled “The Absurd Claim.”

Lewis asks us, as he does throughout Mere Christianity, “What do we to make of this Jesus?” It’s a lunatic’s game if he announces he can forgive sins without the ability to do it. That ability, that pardon, that want is made only in God himself. The offense is made to him. When we sin, as Lewis says, we can certainly forgive the offender or ask forgiveness from the person we’ve broken relationship with, but we cannot remove the offense we’ve made toward God.

“He [Jesus] behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned,” Lewis says, and, “this makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.”

Jesus’ claim was one that shocked the Jewish world and it should also shock us. A famous hymn from 1763 that Lewis would have known (given its inclusion in Anglican hymnals), pleads with God:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee…

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Jesus is no lunatic; he isn’t a liar. Instead, he is God himself. Lewis concludes the chapter just after today’s reading with the precaution to take seriously this claim of Jesus as God: “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

How has this “absurd claim” of Jesus shaped your journey?

During Lent, will use the readings from A Year with C.S. Lewis and offer additional comments. We hope you’ll check back often.

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