When I was growing up in Nashville we lived in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood. Needless to say, there were lots of children. Being Baptist and unfamiliar with Lent, I was always puzzled when my friends would announce they could not eat candy or drink soft drinks. That was one of the main things we did: ride our bikes to the store, read magazines and eat and drink. I admit to gloating when I drank and ate in front of them. As a child Lent sounded strange and silly. I didn’t understand.
As I have grown and begun to learn more about Lent, as one of the church’s liturgical seasons, I have come to appreciate positive aspects of Lent. What, then, is Lent? The word comes from the Latin quadragesima, which means 40th day before Easter. In most Protestant traditions Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter celebration (not counting Sundays). Since every Sunday is considered an Easter celebration, my friends did not have to give up anything on these Sunday even during Lent. However, when I was growing up the stores were closed on Sundays, so they still abstained.
Lent is a time of preparation for the Easter celebration, a time to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the resurrection. Why forty days? In Hebrew tradition the number forty is significant. It means “enough time.” For example the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years, enough time for God to prepare their hearts. And Jesus, prior to his public ministry, was tempted in the desert for forty days, enough time to prepare him for his ministry. That is the reason for the forty days.
Well, how might we “celebrate” Lent? One way is to refocus on Jesus Christ. Take time to study him, to get to know him in one of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Another way is to give up something, so that we might experience at some level a sacrifice. You could give up soft drinks, desserts, chocolate. This can be a meaningful exercise for some. Another thing one can do is focus on certain spiritual practices: choose to serve your spouse in some special ways during Lent (who knows, you might begin a new good habit), visit someone in a nursing home, take gifts of bread or dessert or meals to some people you know might appreciate it, add prayer disciplines to your daily life (such as confession, thanksgiving, praise, intercession). Choose to forgive someone against whom you still hold hard feelings(maybe write them a letter), send notes of encouragement to forty people, choose to participate in abnormal worship services such as Ash Wednesday (7:00pm on Wednesday, March 5 in our sanctuary), Holy Thursday (commemorating Jesus’ last supper with his disciples (Thursday, April 17 at 7:00pm in our sanctuary), Good Friday Taize Worship (Friday, April 18 at 7:00pm). These are different experiences of worship; try one or all if you have never done so.
The important thing is to prepare our hearts and minds to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives. One of the ways of doing this is focusing on events in his life and their impact on our lives. For example, during Lent, consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus in your life— your close relationships, your work or school. Would this entail any changes in my life if I were to do so? What does it mean to love sacrificially? What impact does Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross have in my life? What impact does Jesus’ resurrection have in my life? Join me in a special celebration of Lent and Easter as we seek to be Jesus’ presence in our homes, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods. May Jesus be honored in our lives and may we be strengthened in the journey.