Learning About Lent
Have you ever encountered a word that you can’t quite figure out how to pronounce or what it actually means? Perhaps you’ve found yourself there recently. I can remember shortly after becoming a Christian being told about the meaning of Christmas and Easter. Talk about earth shattering. I’d come from a home where we celebrated Christmas with gifts, food, family, and fun! Easter wasn’t so much a holiday as it was an opportunity to receive a gift, talk about the oddity of a life-sized bunny leaving eggs, and eating the most delectable meal of the year. It wasn’t until years later that my new Baptist traditions gave way and I was exposed to Lent.
The first time I heard Lent in the context of Christianity I was clueless and quite honestly confused. Initially, there was a pressure to act like I knew what was being discussed, but after a few moments of rather intense conversation I humbled myself and simply asked, “What is Lent”? Initially, I concluded this must be something proprietary and only for Catholics. The more questions I asked and the more study I engaged in I saw something much more beautiful than an outdated ritual. I began to see this as an opportunity to grow…an opportunity to learn…an opportunity to focus clearly on what was ahead.
Simply, Lent is a season of time, during the Christian Year, where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. When I heard that definition I moved from intimidation and dismissal to desire and engagement. Fred Grissom states, “Lent is an English word (stemming from an Anglo-Saxon word for “spring” and related to the English word “lengthen”) that refers to the penitential period preceding Easter. Early Christians felt that the magnitude of the Easter celebration called for special preparation. As early as the second century, many Christians observed several days of fasting as part of that preparation.”
Historically, Lent has carried at least three purposes. First, it was a period to mark off preparation for baptismal candidates. Second, it became a time to recognizes public penance. Finally, it became a forty-day devotional preparation for Easter traditionally based on Jesus’ wilderness fast. Presently, for many Christians Lent is as foreign as the Easter Bunny to the first century Church.
As we look toward Easter and we begin to feel the weight and significance of celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus would it not benefit us to focus intently and set ourselves apart for consecrated prayer, simple living, and even fasting? Considering the fact that many of us have a bent toward survival and making it from one day to the next can we not seek a path of spiritual renewal together? What if Lent was something more than a far off tradition? Could we not partner together to make a Lenten resolution which will yield spiritual fruit for the season ahead?
Lent is the space between winter and spring. It’s a season of preparation. It’s a season of labor. It’s a season of sacrifice. It’s a season of hope. Traditionally, Lent carries the connotations of fasting and self-denial. Remember though, this season is about more than abstaining. This is a season of deep focus, deep desire, and spiritual nourishing. While we may limit our intake of food, politics, social media, and various elements of our environment we want to turn those longings to that which is most satisfying – the Gospel! We realize we don’t need a detox as much as we need a transformation. Our hearts don’t need to be reshaped, they need to be reformed.
We ought not see Lent as a time of purging as much as we see it as a time of reforming. It’s during these days that our desire, our heart, and our love for Jesus should multiply immensely. These weeks should stir our affections and show us just how cheap and underwhelming our current fascinations truly are. C.S. Lewis stated, “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant, and the Stoics, and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward, and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink, and sex, and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The goal of Lent should not be focused on what we give up, rather it should be focused on what we take on. May our times of prayer, fasting, study, dwelling on the Scriptures, good works, and fellowship with God’s children be magnified in the days leading up to the grand celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1 and concludes on Thursday, April, 13. Right now you and I have time to begin preparing for this season. Go ahead and set side some time to plan for your Lenten journey this year. Rest assured, sustained reflection, personal renewal, and spiritual depth will only come by way of sacrifice and discipline.
I heard a friend years ago call Lent the “springtime of faith”. I always liked the way that sounded. This is a new season ripe with opportunity for growth and brimming with hope. Lent truly is the springtime of our faith!
Tomorrow: A Weekly Schedule For Lent 2017