Lentin Thoughts

Tomorrow marks the first day of lent. Historically, the season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter Sunday, has been around for a very, very long time. Early mention of the recognition of this period of self-examination and penitence go back as far as the second century AD, and possibly earlier. Since St. Irenaeus made mention of a dispute on when it should be observed between a well-established Eastern and Western early Christian church, it had at least been around long enough at that point for traditional observance dates to be established.

Ash Wednesday by Carl Spitzweg: the end of Carnival (wikicommons)

In many evangelical denominations, with the notable exceptions of Methodists and Reformed church traditions, it is not routinely celebrated. Some may view it as a vestige of the Roman Catholic church, while others seem to completely eschew any sort of traditional practice that came from early church fathers. I want to, as I have many times in the past, make a case for it’s observance and some of the spiritual and practical implications of it.

A basic description of Lent is a period of 40 days (actually, 46 by the orthodox Christian calendar) that is a time of spiritual renewal by repentance and often marked by symbolic austerity. The fact that many of us have to look up the meaning of the word “austere” may be evidence of the need for it. Simply, austerity can mean simplicity or plainness. Even if we embrace simplicity and austerity as a decoration style, we tend to lack simplicity in our lives.

Because of this, we leave little room for experiencing and maturing our relationship with God. I will, in later posts, discuss how Jesus models this for us in the gospels, but at this point, I just want to make a brief case for it. Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent for us and I believe that it is a practice that the church (the body of Christ, all believers and followers of Christ) may need to consider adopting again.

Traditionally, in the Roman Catholic tradition, Lent is a time to give up meat. Other traditions take a much more personalized approach such as encouraging someone to give up something that may be good, but also imperils their relationship with Jesus through distraction. Many people find it useful to give up social media for a time (which I have done as well, to my great benefit). Others will give up sweets, and still others will use it as a time to reignite their passion for scripture by changing their morning or evening routine to set aside time to read and study their Bibles for extended amounts of time, daily.

Most importantly, whatever someone decides to do for this season, they should consider that the purpose isn’t to earn God’s favor, or to appear more holy, but to grow in relationship with Christ.

There is some value to the Roman Catholic tradition in this. Roman Catholicism (similar to Anglicanism and other high church protestant denominations) view their faith as highly communal, and prefer to recognize Lent as a community, giving something up together, which many believe strengthens the body of Christ through both the act of repentance and “suffering” together. This is something I agree may have great value among the body of believers, but isn’t mandatory, nor should it be legalistically applied.

Finally, before I get into deeper things, as I will write sporadically over the next 46 days, I would stress that ultimately, Lent is not about us. It is about Christ. It is preparation, similar to advent but with less emphasis on a child-like expectancy, for the Resurrection Day. It should be a sobering experience. It is a chance to re-orient our wandering hearts to God, in love and through self-discipline.

Let us pray faithfully for how God might want us to observe this Holy season and prepare our hearts for it.

I would love to hear what you have given up in the past for lent, as well as your plans for this year. Please leave a comment and any thoughts you may have on this season in the comment section.

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