Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls in this time of transition from winter to spring season.
Speaking of seasons, a season that we are currently in that a lot of Christians are not mindful of is Lent. Lent is a season, according to the church calendar, that follows after Epiphany season and is the doorway to the Easter season. All types of Christians celebrate this time of extra devotion and discipline; its not just a Catholic ritual. It was inspired by our brokenness and death sentencing by our ancestor’s failure in the Garden of Eden and by the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness fighting off temptation by Satan. The church spends this time reflecting on our human demise and how God has entered our story as an image bearer to overcome the failure in the Garden.
While Advent is a celebration and a time of great anticipation, Lent is more frequently seen as a time of solemn observance and preparation for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. From its start on Ash Wednesday until its climatic ending on Easter Sunday, Lent has been a traditional time for fasting, giving something up or abstinence. Just as we carefully prepare for events in our personal lives such as a wedding or birthday, Lent acts as commencement inviting us to make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death and body resurrection.
Lent is a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God. This means that it’s a time for personal reflection that prepares people’s hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter. The three main things people focus on during Lent are prayer, fasting (abstaining from something to reduce distractions and focus more on God) and giving or charity. Prayer during Lent focuses on our need for God’s forgiveness. It’s also about repenting (turning away from our sins) and receiving God’s mercy and love. Fasting can be expressed in many sorts of ways like choosing to give up just one item for Lent or more commonly a ‘luxury’ such as chocolate, meat or alcohol. But it’s not only about food. It is common for believers to give up other things in order to refocus their faith during this time, such as watching TV, going to the gym, online shopping, social media and even grooming like shaving (please keep showering!). Giving money or doing something good for others is another way to respond to God’s grace, generosity and love. For example, some people spend time volunteering or donate money they would normally use to buy something, like their morning coffee. Many Christians also use Lent to study their Bibles and pray more intensively, making use of the many devotional books which trains us to prioritize what matters in life because we replace things that don’t really matter with more time connecting with God. Let me be clear! Lent is not a season to manufacture guilt. Rather, it is a time to recognize our brokenness, frailty, and trust in God’s love. It is not a time to focus our individual struggles but is about Jesus entering our human condition and doing battle with the principalities and powers of darkness. It’s a time to freely come before God and admit we are Adam and Eve who do the same thing and still take and eat the fruit. It’s a soft balance between humility in our failure as humans yet simultaneously confidence in God’s victory over sin and death in Jesus. The season of Lent disciples us on how to walk this spiritual tight rope.
I’ll leave you all with a quote from one of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, “I have always thought that Lent is a dangerous time for Christians. This time in the church year, I fear, tempts us to play at being Christian. We are to discipline our lives during Lent in order to discover and repent of those sins that prevent us from the wholehearted worship of God. That is a perfectly appropriate ambition, but we are not very good at it. We are not very good at it because, in general, we are not very impressive sinners. Just as most of us are mediocre Christians, so we are mediocre sinners. As a result, Lent becomes a time we get to play at being sinners while continuing to entertain the presumption that we are not all that bad… I am not suggesting that Lenten disciplines do not have a place. Giving up something we will miss may help us discover forms of self-centeredness that make us less than Christ has made possible. But hopefully, we will find ways to avoid playing at being sinful. Lent is not a time to play at anything but rather a time to confess that we would have shouted ‘Crucify him!’”