Well, sure, Lent is largely from the Catholic tradition. And let’s be honest the Lenten season often brings greater confusion than clarity to Christ’s followers. But the Lenten season still has value for the evangelical Christian. I want to take this opportunity to talk a little about the history, themes, and practice of Lent today and how you might benefit.
Lent, literally from an Anglo-Saxon lencten meaning “springtime”, is a time of preparation, a time to return to the dessert where Jesus spent forty trying days readying for his ministry. He allowed himself to be tested and so should we in the forty days leading up to the celebration of Easter Sunday. Popularized in the fourth century by the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), Lent was traditionally associated with penitence, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. It was a season of giving things up balanced by giving to those in need. But it was never looked upon as a time to “forgo a handful of pleasures.” In other words, Lent is an opportunity, not a requirement. It’s an occasion to be surprised by joy in the bleakness of sin’s winter; a time to lay aside this or that desire in order to focus upon our deepest longing: union with Christ. This joy is costly, however. It comes at a steep expense: whatever shreds of goodness we identify in ourselves outside of Christ.
Most of us are willing to give up a thing or two when it comes to a good cause. But to “never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14) as the Apostle Paul exclaims, means we must all walk the scandalous path of Golgotha where the God-Man dangled limp on a gibbet surrounded by refuse. What a picture:
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
This should overwhelm our hearts with a love for Jesus and an increasing distaste for sin. This is why the Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday, a day, illustrated by the ash, of contrition and repentance (Jonah 3:6, Daniel 9:3). It is an opportunity for us to be reminded of our mortality and to remember that God numbers our days (Psalm. 90:12).
We need to be biblically aware when it comes to seasons like Lent or even Advent. In Romans 14:5 Paul establishes the fact that the celebration of holy days is a matter of Christian liberty. There can be a real value in participating in this season but only if it’s done with a heart that truly seeks to honor God. I would encourage you to use this time as an opportunity to prepare for the celebration of Easter. Perhaps this means you spend an extended amount of time over the next 39 days thinking about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Take advantage of this season to engage in regular times of repentance and confession and to seek reconciliation with those you have sinned against and those who have sinned against you. Ask God to guide you in this season.
God of wilderness and water,
your Son was baptized and tempted as we are.
Guide us through this season,
that we may not avoid struggle,
but open ourselves to blessing,
through the cleansing depths of repentance
and the heaven-rending words of the Spirit.
Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers
Each morning of the Lenten Season I’ll be posting a short meditation and Scripture reading guide to assist in your time of mediation and repentance. And remember, you don’t need a season in the Church Calendar to practice the spiritual disciplines of being a follower of Christ. But it sure helps to be reminded!
WEEK ONE – FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 2
Monday: Joel 2:1-17;
Tuesday: Isaiah 58:1-12
Wednesday: Psalm 51
Thursday: Matthew 6:1-21
Friday: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
– Pastor Hartman