A fresh look at Lent
Can you imagine getting married without any preparation for your special day? Think about the implications of arriving with no plans in place whatsoever? No booking of the venue. No deciding on the perfect menu. No dress fittings or even deciding which flowers will be best. No seating plans or guest list. No plans for a photographer or even deciding on a DJ. That is … Nothing. Nada. Nought!
Of course this would be a ludicrous idea for most of us, unless you have always dreamt of getting married in Las Vegas. So why am I even bothering suggesting this? What’s the point?
Preparing for Easter
Well, just as crazy as this scenario may sound, there are many followers of Christ who arrive at Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday with zero preparation whatsoever. We wake up on this special weekend and expect to fall into the glorious majesty of the Easter story, yet wonder why we feel as if something is missing. Personally, I feel that when we do this we rob ourselves of the deep richness of this pivotal moment in our Christian faith. For this reason I am unashamedly a huge fan of celebrating the liturgical season of Lent.
Traditionally Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Thursday before Good Friday and will have varying focal points, depending on which tradition you belong to. On the whole, most Christian traditions associate Lent with a deepening of our commitment to Christ and a reflection on Jesus’s great sacrifice on the cross. Lent is filled with a call to read and meditate on the Scriptures, as well as spend regular time in prayer and fasting.
Worshippers usually also choose to give up something during the Lent period as an act of sacrifice, although some also ‘take up’ a spiritual discipline in order to draw closer to Christ. In truth, I find that whether I give something up or even begin a spiritual practise, it all still draws me into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
For the sake of this short article I would like to offer you the following acronym for L.E.N.T. and I pray it will add to your personal reflections on the significance of this profound season in our Christian calendar.
L – Life
The Easter story has LIFE written all over it. Yes, it is true that there is a large amount of gore, tears, blood-shed, crucifixion and death, but these are all superseded by the clear watermark of LIFE.
We are so privileged to read the Gospel accounts of the passion of Christ from this side of the Resurrection. By having this gift, we get to digest the suffering of Jesus through the lens of renewal, rebirth and second-chances. The Resurrection tells us that life will always trump death and so Jesus’s words prove to be true for all of us: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full!” (John 10:10).
E – Endings
Many people are afraid of endings. Perhaps it has to do with our fear of death and loss, but we seek to avoid anything that might cause us pain and sorrow. Jesus’s journey to the cross reminds me that every ending doesn’t need to be catastrophic. In fact, some endings are vital in order for something better to be born in us. As Jesus said: “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
Lent draws our attention to the reality that we need to come to the end of ourselves in order to allow Christ to fully reign in our hearts. We are also challenged to let go of our need to always be in control and to rather trust in the goodness of God. Equally I am reminded to put a stop to the recurring sin in my life, in order to allow Christ to raise me up in victory.
Eugene Peterson sums this up beautifully when he writes, "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less” (Matthew 5:3-5 MSG).
N – New
The Greek word Kainos implies that something is ‘new and improved.’ This is a great word for Easter as it reminds us of the New Covenant of Christ. Jesus doesn’t simply replace an old tradition, but rather fulfils everything about that Covenant and improves on it a thousand fold. In the season of Lent we should reflect deeply on the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper as they give us insight into the Kainos of God’s promise to us.
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).
T – Transformation
There are many words that could have been appropriate to represent the “T” of Lent, but in in the end I have chosen Transformation. Trials, Trust, Temptations and even Truth would also work, however Transformation speaks to a clear thread that runs through the Easter story. Easter transforms people’s lives.
Peter is changed.
Mary is changed.
Thomas is changed.
The Roman soldier is changed.
Joseph of Arimathea is changed.
And so we too can be transformed by the grace of God. Lent urges us to be honest with God and honest with ourselves. In this season we choose not to hide from the hard question: “What areas of my life need to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ?”
As you journey through the gift of Lent, I invite you to look again at the Passion of Christ as if you were preparing for the biggest occasion of your life. May God bless you as you draw ever nearer to the weekend that could change your life forever