Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lent: Part 1

This week we will be reflecting on what Lent is and what Lent means. Then, during the following six weeks leading up to Easter we will be reflecting on subjects appropriate for faith, preparation, self-reflection, and new life. My hope is to move from the daily faith paragraph we’ve all become used to over the last year…   and instead, only post on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. In these posts the messages will be longer, deeper, and contain some prayers, devotional music links, and other inspiring things to help each of us shift our focus to God, faith, life purpose, and healing in body, mind, and spirit.

The word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten which means Spring (United Methodist Book of Worship p. 320). In the early years of the Christian communities and churches (beginning in the 100’s or so) Lent was a time of preparation in which people who wanted to be baptized and join the church had to go through a time of preparation, repentance, and self-denial. On Easter, they would be baptized and accepted into the community in celebration of New Life and Jesus’ Resurrection.

So…   what’s up with the season of Lent anyway? They say it is 40 days long…   but if you count the days from Ash Wednesday until the Saturday before Easter you get more than 40. The tradition holds that each Sunday during Lent is actually a day of celebration rather than a day of preparation. During those days we remember the ‘breaking in’ of God’s grace and healing and promise of new life in Jesus…   it’s like a mini Easter.

Why forty days?  Well, for a traditional practice to really have some guts and foundations…   it has got to be grounded in something that really happened. It has got to be grounded in something important. It has got to be something that we want and need to remember. In the case of the Forty Days, it is a reflection of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. A time in which doubt and fear and worldly desire tried to corrupt his dedication and preparation for doing God’s will…   and being who God called him to be. Interestingly enough, this came about right after Jesus was baptized and publicly confirmed by God for greatness. Here is the account:

Matthew 3:16-4:11

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

So, it is during Lent that those who seek the life of faith, and a relationship with God, face down the temptations and trials after the example of Jesus. One thing is certain…   it is not easy. That is why for generations (since the first century) people have taken on Lent. Here are some questions for each of us to ask as we decide whether or not to embrace the Lenten Season with serious reflection:

Where in my life have I been stopped from greater health and freedom because of a persistent bad habit or addiction?

Where is my life defined by a broken relationship and the anger, pain, and shame of living with it?

Where am I lost and without direction in life and faith? How have my doubts and fears kept me from new beginnings?

Take some quiet reflection time today and think about these questions. Reflection is a form of prayer and meditation, and it will open up opportunities of self-discovery that we may easily miss in the busy-ness of daily life.

Lent can be a good time for self-discovery…   and a good time to ‘let go and let God make a way for greatness in our live’. Enjoy this devotional song:

God of This City