Eastern Christianity speaks of the season of Lent as a time of “bright sadness.” It’s bright because we know the promise of resurrection waits for us on the other side. But there is nonetheless sadness because in order to see the light of Easter morning we must first pass through the darkness of Good Friday.
This is a delicate balance to walk, holding both Jesus’ death and his resurrection in equal measure. To lean too much in either direction risks minimizing the other. But there is something of the interplay of these two, sadness and brightness, that we know deep in our own bodies. We’ve all felt a kind of “sad brightness.”
When the vacation ends and the family returns to their homes.
When summer is over and a new school year starts.
When you see the marks on the doorframe measuring a year’s worth of growth.
Perhaps you, too, have felt a sadness amid the happy return to something like our normal rhythms as a church, for the last two years have taken a toll on all of us. Or taking in the natural beauty of the taste of spring knowing that war rages on half a world away.
There’s a sadness behind every bright spot. The journey of Lent reminds us that this is okay, that it is a deep truth of life and is at the heart of our Christian story. Even the risen Christ had wounds.
Sad brightness is one thing, but it’s harder in the moment to believe that there is a brightness behind every sadness. This is more hard-won because the brightness is not immediately available to us. To believe it is there requires trust. It is the very meaning of faith—the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. We must move through the darkness to get to the light.
The great Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, describes the hope of Lenten worship this way,
“Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed ‘bright,’ that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us…All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having…touched ‘another world.’ And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.”
Such is the great hope of this season we enter, this story that we tell, and this life we live together. It is a truth we know deep in our own bones, that we pray this season will lift to our hearts.