Dear Siblings in Christ,
Having just begun the season of Lent it’s probably a good time for a newsletter article about that very season. It has been my tradition, after all. Where I to ask, “What is Lent all about?” I am guessing I would get a variety of answers, but the most common would probably be, “It’s the time when we give something up for the duration of Lent” or “The time when we are supposed to repent, or return, to God.” Neither answer would be incorrect, but it is much more layered than that.
The 40 days coincided with the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert after His baptism which ended with His temptation by Satan. Historically, starting in the 4th century Lent was a season of preparation for those who were to be baptized on Easter Sunday, the day when most were baptized centuries ago. Those preparing for baptism were called Catechumens and they wore sackcloth and ashes as a sign of penitence. Our nature as sinners would have been deeply imprinted on the Catechumens during the 40 days until the morning of Easter when our sin is washed away in the waters of baptism. Theoretically this would have been a euphoric event that would lead to a life of piety, or Christ centered living, in thanks for the gift of Grace.
Over the centuries it lost the connection with baptism and evolved in various religious traditions that resulted in many different Lenten practices. The most common practice now is to deny oneself of something we enjoy. Whatever the tradition, Lent has always been about recognizing our inclination toward self and independence, otherwise known as sin, in order to lead us back to greater awareness of God and our need of His grace so that we may become better witnesses to that grace. In some traditions, like the Catholic Church, it is almost a mandate to participate in some Lenten practice. As Lutherans we always have the freedom to participate or not. Either way won’t change God’s love for us. So, why bother?
Why not? Are we not afflicted by sin? Does sin have a negative affect on us and our relationship with God? How much time throughout the year do we spend building or maintaining our relationship with God? The answers? Yes. Yes. Probably not as much as we could. The first two answers are obvious. The third is not as black and white. The reality is we need to spend a great deal of our time functioning in the earthly kingdom just to survive. Work, paying bills, running errands, and socializing and our daily routines consume most of our waking hours. Then there is the down time recharging our mental and emotional batteries after the all of those things. When we are overwhelmed by busyness the things that we give up are typically the spiritual practices that are ironically the most life giving. As an example, after a busy week Sunday comes and going to worship seems like the easiest thing to skip in order to get some down time. Has that ever happened to you?
Sleeping in on a Sunday or skipping worship to relax are not necessarily a bad thing. That is not what I’m saying. I am just trying to make the point that because we are people of the earthly kingdom way more than we are people of the Kingdom of God we make choices that are more powerfully influenced by the worldly stuff. A Lenten discipline is the ‘break’ we need from the worldly life for an extended period of time that returns us to the life giving grace of God. Too often Lent is perceived as a time of absence when it really is a return to the abundance of grace. Perspective matters.
If you have never taken on a Lenten practice perhaps now is the time. Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the hamster wheel of life? How about some quite time with our Heavenly Father? Intentional daily prayer may just be what you need. Do you feel distant or detached from God? Try daily devotional time or a service project like volunteering for a non-profit. Spend 30 minutes listening to Christian music. Here’s a radical idea, spend 30 minutes in silence meditating. God speaks to us when we are listening far more powerfully than when we are talking or busy with life. Are you feeling shortchanged by the scarcity of life? Spend ten minutes a day writing down the things you are thankful for. You might find that you are far more blessed than you realize.
These are just a few suggestions. There are endless possibilities beyond giving up sweets or soda for 40 days. A good Lenten practice simply needs to be something that focuses your mind, body, and soul on God daily as opposed to whenever you have time or when it’s convenient to your busy schedule. You don’t have to, but why wouldn’t you want to? Lent is an invitation to spend a little less time in the earthly kingdom and a little more time in God’s Kingdom. For me that is something we can all benefit from.
Yours in Christ,