When I was a child and young adult I was always very keen to get everything right. I was very conscientious, worked hard, always tried my best and was really quite hard on myself – and therefore, no doubt, on everyone around me! This perfectionism came with a cost: the constant fear of failure and the horror of messing things up. I can remember talking to my mum about a work-related failure of some kind – I can’t remember what it was now – perhaps a disappointing performance review. ‘Well Claire’, she said, ‘welcome to the human race’.
And what she meant was: you are part of messy, chaotic, less-than-perfect, out-of-control creation. You are just like everyone else: uninsured against failure and disappointment like the rest of humanity. Striving to be perfect only alienates you from yourself and others. Accept you as you are: capable, hard-working, but as liable to make a mess of things as the next person. No one is immune from simply being a fallible human being.
And this is, I think, the message of Lent. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. This is a renewal of our perspective on ourselves: to accept that we are dust is the first step in healing the many ways in which our lives become distorted and disrupted. Lent is the starting point in trying to mend our lives, through engaging with the story of Christ’s pouring out of love for us and for the world. If we know, through self-reflection, our need of God’s transforming love, then we can be ready for the new life ushered in at Easter.
The story of Holy Week and Easter is above all a story of transformation. In following carefully the journey of Jesus through the days before and after his death on the cross we can re-experience the power of his life-giving death. Jesus pours out his life to ensure that we can live. Death is defeated by his death, because his life was renewed on Easter morning. The Easter song is a song of joy that we can join that life – in spite of our keen awareness of our limitation – and that is God’s gift to us. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. All we need now is the courage to join the feast.