FOR Christians around the world, today is the beginning of Lent. This forty-day period commemorates Christ Jesus' ministry, leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection at Easter. It provides an opportunity to ponder the Master's mission on behalf of humanity in general and for each of us individually.
One thing that has impressed me over the years in contrast with the solemnity of Lent is the Master's own words to his disciples. Knowing what was before him, he experienced anguish in the garden of Gethesemane and prayed earnestly to be relieved from his task. Yet, he yielded to God's will. And he spoke of joy and love to his disciples not long before he was betrayed by Judas. He told them, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in
his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
Certainly the joy Jesus was speaking of didn't depend on the material conditions around him. Nor was he ignoring the challenges that lay ahead. He knew his enemies were gathering and that he would shortly be betrayed by one of his own followers. There was very little to be joyful about from that standpoint. But the Master had also spent three years proving the immediacy of God's help in every circumstance. And he had tried to convey man's inseparability from God to those around him. For Jesus, this wasn' t just a theoretical or philosophical point. It was a spiritual fact that had restored people to health and even brought them back from death.
In effect, Jesus was telling us we can be joyful even in the midst of great challenges if we are willing to turn to God in prayer and to trust His guidance. Such prayer is an affirmation of our inseparability from divine Love, God. In many ways, the Master showed us that God is always with us and that we can trustingly turn to Him in prayer. Teaching this new concept of a God who is totally good and loving was a major part of the Master's mission. His resurrection from the grave was a proof of God's all- encompassing love, vanquishing even the lie of death.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, speaks of this aspect of the Master's mission in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes, "Jesus aided in reconciling man to God by giving man a truer sense of Love, the divine Principle of Jesus' teachings, and this truer sense of Love redeems man from the law of matter, sin, and death by the law of Spirit,--the law of divine Love.
A feeling of separation from God, or good, often arises when we are mistakenly believing that we are merely material beings, locked into a material universe where conflict and suffering are the norm. But the Bible makes clear that man is actually the offspring of God, created and loved by Him. And since God is Spirit, it is natural to realize that His children must partake of His nature and be spiritual. To be spiritual doesn't mean we are invisible or amorphous, however. Instead it indicates that our tr ue, spiritual identity is made up of qualities such as love, intelligence, goodness, tenderness, joy. This spiritual nature is indestructible--as Jesus proved. And he showed that the spiritual is the only real and eternal being that man has.
In reality this Godlike nature is yours and mine. Knowing our true nature, and acting in accord with it, is the key to permanent joy and peace such as Jesus knew. We learn more of this nature as we study the Bible--especially Jesus' life and works. Through this study we gain a clearer understanding that joy is spiritual, and we see that no material circumstances can really take it away. And as we grow closer to God in prayer, we also find that this strong, Lenten joy can be with us every day of the year.