Wednesday was the the start of the season of Lent, the 40 day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Good Friday. It traditionally begins with the giving/receiving of ashes, symbolic of repentance and acknowledgment of the finiteness of our lives. “Ashes you are, to ashes you shall return.” Lent involves three specific areas: fasting, prayer and alms giving (acts of service.) We fast from something that either dominates us or are strong attachments in our lives. (I am giving up Starbucks for Lent and missing it already!). We also choose to spend time in prayer and to be intentional in reaching out to others in service and compassion. We had a wonderful time of praise and prayer; We were “alone – together” as people spent time of reflection, quietness and meditation at six different prayer stations set up throughout the worship center, including one for the receiving of ashes.
More than “giving something up”, giving to others or even praying, the real focus of Lent is to point us towards the cross. We enter into a shared fellowship with Him, a shared experience of sacrifice and love. It is a time of self denial because what is the greatest act of love but one of self denial and sacrifice? We see Jesus on the cross, naked, without material possessions or attachments, bereft of anything that would compromise His devotion to the Father.
“He emptied himself of all but love” wrote Charles Wesley in the haunting hymn “And Can It Be?” Lent invites us to wear those characteristics that embodied Christ as He gave Himself freely to doing God’s will. Even to the point of death. Lent points us to the cross and if it fails to do that then it become another season no different than 40 days of July into August or October into November. So acts of fasting, prayer and service are not “for God” but for us…They are only effective if they are effectively helping us to be less self consumed by pointing us to Jesus on the cross, crucified for our sins…for the sins of the world.
In a world that emphasizes accumulation and gain, Lent seeks to strip us of that pursuit in order to help us “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Every unfulfilled yearning (for a Cinnamon Dolce Latte, for example), every quiet moment of prayer, every act of kindness, reminds us that what is most important, what is most essential, is found in the cross of Christ. Lent is a time of preparation. It has been said that you cannot appreciate the good times until you have gone through some bad ones; you cannot appreciate the light unless you have experienced the darkness. In the same way, I don’t think we can truly appreciate or even celebrate Resurrection Sunday (popularly known as Easter Sunday) unless we travel through a period of wanting and reflection, a time of loss and spiritual mourning for our sins. In other words, an observance and practice of Lent.
What do you think?
How does it make you feel?