Ash Wednesday brings pictures of trashed streets in New Orleans, fish crackers, sixteenth century flagellants, dower pious matrons looking forlorn to draw attention to their sacrifice, and the disquieting annoyance of finding nothing but tiny fibers in your jean pockets.
Lent has a really bad rap with almost everyone. Catholics seem to dread the forty days before Easter and over the years have slowly loosened the restrictions until it is considered more of a show than a time of preparation. Modern Christians see it as legalistic and restrictive, secularists think any show of religion is foolish, and Muslims look down on Lent as a shadow of Ramadan which they celebrate through fasting and feasting daily.
Lent has become a wasted opportunity. Originally a time to reflect on personal spiritual growth and draw closer to the body of Christ through a mutual time of fasting, it became little more than a forced duty, penance for sins with interspersed acts of charity when you mess up.
Easter is a time for rejoicing and we find none of that in orange eggs, sugar chicks, and bunnies which are actually hares. The fullness of Easter is found in the culminating work of Christ’s ministry, the fulfillment of prophesy, the redeeming act of the Messiah. Rejected by those he came to save, rejected by those who were closest to him, rejectedby God, His Father, he died a literally heartbreakingly agonizing death. Left there, he is nothing, but another good man who died unjustly in an unjust time. We are nothing, useless delusional fools still damned to an eternal death.
Then, conquering death Christ, the Lord of Death and Life, rose from the grave to free those who believe in him from eternal death. Now, the One who defeated death guides us through that last journey into a life more full than can ever be known here.
That is what we are celebrating. It makes everything else sound trite.
Lent, literally meaning spring, is a time to prepare to celebrate that truth. In contemplation, fasting, and prayer we can draw closer to Him, know Him better, so that this Easter we can celebrate a little more fully in preparation for that day we will feast in Heaven. Spring is the time when life starts peeping out of the seemingly dead ground. Beautiful, fruitful things pop up and fill the air with good smells. Death is used to bring life.
Maybe giving up something is the best way to see what has become an idol in your life and free up time to spend with God. It is always very revealing. It isn’t necessary to let others know you observe Lent, but it may be useful to go to those you respect, who know you, and ask for an honest assessment of areas you may be blind to.
It is hard, you will not always like what you see, and I can guarantee that you are going to have a couple disappointing and possibly mean days as the novelty wears off, but the growth is worth it.
The best part is that is takes thirty days to make a habit. If you practice seeking God and putting aside an idol during Lent, you might have broken a habit that has prevented you from drawing near to Him and made a valuable one that will help you grow further in the next year.
If nothing else, I hope that when you hear about Lent this season, you think about your walk with God. If you do practice it, I hope it prepares your heart for whatever trials you will meet this coming year in drawing you nearer to God.