In popular culture, Lent has in many cases come to mean a period of fasting or “giving up” certain foods or activities in order to retreat with Jesus into the wilderness for a time of reflection and prayer in preparation for the glory of his resurrection at Easter. This is not wholly inaccurate, but focuses more on what many Christians do outwardly – rather than on their experience of this time of spiritual contemplation and prayerful communion with God. Fasting is one way to strengthen focus on spirituality, but other means – such as prayer and meditation on the scriptures – are also part of the Lenten season for many Christians, and they often find benefit with surprisingly little time commitment. Often, people will stay with these practices long after Lent ends.
Throughout the church year, there are many occasions to celebrate Jesus and his wonderful gifts of grace and salvation, but Easter holds a special place as the crowning glory of his earthly journey. Many Christians use this time of year to reflect upon their baptisms and renew their vows; we do this annually in the church, and it is always a blessing. Along with that, the seasons of Lent and Eastertide nourish a sense of renewal, something that is missing for some as they deal with the pressures of daily life. It is grace indeed, that as we walk with the Lord through Lent, we recall many such spiritually enriching milestones in our lives. Revisiting familiar scriptures in the gospels and looking back into the texts of the Old Testament prophets and the Book of Psalms can bring a deeper understanding of Christ's ministry and a more resonant acceptance of God’s unfailing love – as evidenced by the life, death, and resurrection of his son.
Of course, we do look ahead to Easter with anticipation, but Lent has its own beauty and grace. Most of us – accustomed to focusing on the needs of others – eschew the idea of focusing on ourselves. Therefore, the quiet Lenten retreat may seem somewhat uncomfortable. However, as we are taught by the Lord to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we realize that the love we hold for ourselves is eminently important. Our lives are gifts from God, and his love is at the heart of it all; giving thanks for those gifts draws us closer to God. Because he first loved us, we can more fully love ourselves and others.
Lent then, is a time of personal reflection and corporate focus on spiritual growth and renewal. The time in the wilderness can be challenging – and rewarding. As we make our way through these forty days, let us commit to bringing our focus near. We need this time as individuals and communities; we need this time as a church family. Let us pray for the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit as we travel the road ahead – the path of Christ to Calvary and beyond.
As the ashes are imposed – actually on our foreheads or in our hearts – let us walk the path of Christ with humility and joy.
May God richly bless us in this season!