I wonder, what are your feelings about Lent? What did your church tradition teach you about Lent? Was that something you were told “the Catholics” did to try to earn salvation? Was that something “liturgical churches” did to try to shed a few bad habits? Was Lent the time of year for people to give up meat and share in “fish fry Fridays?” Do you feel like Lent is a little depressing?
I grew up in an evangelical megachurch in the 1980’s in the midwest. In that context, there was a big emphasis on the Bible and Jesus and a personal relationship with God and a fair amount of suspicion towards tradition, plus an anti-liturgical sentiment. So my church growing up did not observe Lent. I never had ashes smeared on my forehead until recent years. During seminary, I worshiped and worked at a church that embraced the worldwide liturgical calendar and I began to learn about and came to value the collective wisdom of the global church in developing a time each year, in preparation for Easter, that intentionally carves out space for repentance and renewal. My experience today with Lent is not at all in conflict with my childhood roots of prioritizing the Bible, Jesus, and a personal relationship with God — in fact, it has deepened those very values in me. Lent (and the liturgical calendar) has also expanded my horizons to include practices that I only gave a momentary head nod towards growing up. By honoring the liturgical seasons of the year, I am learning a way of placing myself in the stream of spiritual formation in areas I might otherwise seek to avoid – areas such as reflection, repentance, and renewal in my relationship with Jesus.
Mark 1:15 says, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.’”
Lent is a season of the year that is about Jesus’ words: “repent and believe the gospel.”
Lent assumes we are going to mess up. Did I just hear a huge exhale?!? I think a lot of times in the church, people think that if they start following Jesus, then everything is going to be a constant ascending upward until perfection is found in heaven someday.
Lent reminds us that we are going to mess up, and that is actually good news! Lent reminds us that the journey of faith is not a constant ascending. There are mountains and valleys. There are mistakes we make; regrets, sin, and shame along the way. Lent reminds us that repentance is the way to renewal in our relationship with Jesus. Lent invites us to take off our masks, to stop masquerading around like we have it all together. To pause and make space for the grief of our alienation and separation. Lent reminds us that we do not come to Christ by doing everything right. We actually come to Jesus (and grow in Jesus) by seeing his perfect beauty, realizing we are alienated in a myriad of ways, and then throwing ourselves upon his grace, mercy, and forgiveness over and over again. We receive God’s eager absolution, his deep healing, and we are built up in his loving-kindness. Thank God for such a season; thank God for Lent!
Historically, Lent was a time for new converts who wanted to be baptized into the church to prepare for their baptism on Easter. The preparation time was 40 days. Later on, wise followers of Jesus observed that this wasn’t just a time for new converts only, but also a time for those who had fallen away from the church to return. Later on still, the collective wisdom of the church realized that it wasn’t just new converts or people who had fallen away from the church who needed renewal, but rather everyone needed seasons of repentance and renewal. We all need times when we reset, and return to the Lord. And so this season we now call “Lent” was born.
I wonder, has there ever been a time in your life when you felt the need to renew your spiritual life? How did you handle that?
If you have mixed feelings about the season of Lent, I pray that you will keep an open mind. There is no “right way” to do Lent. The heart of this season is repentance and renewal in your relationship with the Lord. What might that look like for you? I pray for our Lenten journey, as we seek to acknowledge where we are alienated and disconnected and ask God to renew our spiritual vitality in this season we share.