Lent: A Strange Time
Ash Wednesday and Lent have always been strange times for me. I wasn’t raised in the church, so I didn’t even learn about the meaning of Ash Wednesday or Lent until I was in college, so, in a lot of ways, it is still a bit of a “new concept” for me, and I’m still learning about it myself.
This past Monday, I began my last full semester at Asbury Theological Seminary, as I continue to work towards the completion of my M. Div. For all of those reasons, these coming days and months are even stranger to me than they have been in the past. But I’ve found that as my time working towards this degree draws to a close, I still tend to struggle with regular communion with God. Maybe Lent can help somehow…
As I was reading through the Revised Common Lectionary texts this morning, I was surprised to find the theme of the texts to be not at all what I expected (By the way, I’ve found that more often times than not, Lectionary texts tend to surprise me, so score one for Church Tradition & Liturgy…), especially with the use of Psalm 51.
And yet, there’s something strangely compelling about praying through that Psalm here at the beginning of Lent, as it moves us as God’s people through a confession of sin, a petition for forgiveness, and a restoration of God’s presence in our lives, to a point of repentance, as the Psalmist promises to “teach transgressors your ways,” (vv. 13) and to have “…my mouth will declare your praise,” (vv. 15).
It’s almost as if the Psalmist is seeking to push the “Reset” button, and make a fresh start. And I think that’s a great way of phrasing it.
In the same way, today’s gospel reading comes from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, and I think it takes this to the next level. One of the common practices in Lent is about giving up something for the duration of the season, whether it be chocolate, candy, coffee, etc. but I wonder if there’s more to it than that. I think what Matthew 6 is really trying to hit home is that maybe it’s not as important about what we give up for Lent, or even that we “make it public,” by telling others about it.
An excerpt from Bread & Wine, a Lenten/ Easter collection of readings, describes this well:
“Lent (literally “springtime”) is a time of preparation, a time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty trying days readying for his ministry. He allowed himself to be tested, and if we are serious about following him, we will do the same. First popularized in the fourth century, Lent is traditionally associated with penitence, fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. It is a time for “giving things up” balanced by “giving to” those in need. Yet whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose- an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, powered people emerges,” (p. xvi).
The point isn’t about what we sacrifice for a period of time, nor it is about the liturgy we recite today, or in Church on Sundays. It’s about how we interact with God, and also with others. I recently read an article by Time Magazine from Lent last year, in which the Pope suggested that instead of fasting from candy, chocolate, or even alcohol, that instead, we “fast from indifference towards others,”
Further, the Pope suggested that: “Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
So maybe, in addition to making a physical sacrifice for Lent, or even in lieu of it, we seek to find unity with Christ, to be awakened, and refreshed once again to serve the Living, Triune, Risen God, by seeking to love those people around us that we might not have noticed before.
That’s what I’m trying this year for Lent.
Be blessed during this time of preparation as live through Lent and inch closer and closer to Easter once again.