It’s hard to believe it’s Lent already!
As many of you know, it has been a challenging few months for us as a family and, in addition, Lent last year was eclipsed by onset of the Coronavirus and the hard-lockdown implemented in the fourth week of Lent. So I’m coming to Lent a little “out of sorts”…
I also think that too often we approach Lent as though it were a series of New Year’s resolutions: to give up a particular bad habit, or share more with the poor, or be more faithful to prayer. But Lent is not about self-improvement. Lent is a time of transformation in which God is in charge of our metamorphosis and not us.
I think that we often come to Lent like Peter did, swearing and declaring that we will never deny Jesus, and then falling flat on our faces. Maybe we need to be more like the thief on the cross who, knowing that he couldn’t actually do anything, just prayed “Lord, remember me…”
The purpose of Lent is for us to see, hear and be renewed by the message of God’s Love revealed at Easter. There is the danger that this time can be a burden and not a blessing.
Throughout the ages the three-fold emphasis of Lent has been helpful: We do need to pray, fast and give, but not out of guilt or any sense of pulling ourselves up by our bootlaces.
So here’s my challenge for you this Lent:
Years ago we took some leave at a point where I was exhausted and worn out. When we arrived at the house we were staying in, the neighbour who opened up the house for us, left a bunch of flowers and a note which read: “People come out here to ‘find God’ – as if God could get lost! He doesn’t get lost, we do…” The next morning I rode my bicycle up a misty forest road and prayed: “Lord, I’m the one that needs finding, please find me…” And He did.
I pray that this will be true for many of you this Lent!
And so, I’ve attached an explanation about Lent and the possible activities and decisions you can make. Remember that these are not so much about resolutions or commitments as what they are practices that will put you in a place that you can hear and see our Lord as He comes to find you…
Lent is based on the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry. (Sundays are not counted, so Lent is actually 46 days long)
During the second century it became customary to baptise all converts on Easter Sunday. During those ages of persecution and martyrdom, they had to be thoroughly prepared for the confession of their faith and for their challenging walk with the Lord.
These preparations lasted 40 days – not counting Sundays. Fasting and Prayer played an important role alongside the teaching the converts would receive during this time.
After a while, other Church members felt the need to repeat the course. This always coincided with the European Spring and so this Season of the Church became known as “Lent” which is Latin for Spring. Lent reaches its climax on Good Friday and ends with the Celebration of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
There are two important aspects to Lent:
Penitence: We realise our own brokenness and our need for Christ.
Preparation: We strive to open our hearts wider for the celebration of Easter.
During Lent there are three tasks:
Prayer is about Preparing our Hearts, becoming more aware of God’s love and goodness. It’s not just about rituals but relationship.
Fasting doesn’t only have to be about food. It’s any kind of addition to or subtraction from our lives that sharpens our focus on God.
Giving is about making a difference in the lives of others and growing compassion in us because the rush of life makes us callous.
The idea around Lent is that we add to and subtract from our lives so that we don’t just move forward but God-ward. Traditionally there are three directions for our “fasting” to take:
God (through prayer, reflection and action)
Ourselves (through the creation of good habits or breaking bad ones)
Others (through charity and kindness)
So, here are some examples:
Give up sugar or coffee and use the “cravings” as a reminder to think about and devote yourself to God.
Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier for devotions or exercise.
Reduce your TV hours and use the time to read a good devotional book or to spend quality time with your family.
Volunteer some time to help at a charitable organisation or do something to help the poor and needy.
Come to church more regularly or join a fellowship group for the 6 weeks
The term ‘Shrove’ is derived from the word ‘shrive’ or ‘shriven’, which refers to the process of ‘confessing ones sins’ before going into Lent.
In many Christian traditions people would abstain from rich foods during this fast time. As Wednesday was the start of Lent, Tuesday would be used as a day to use up the “rich” foods (eggs, butter, oil, milk, etc) in the house. Pancakes serve this purpose very well!
The ingredients are seen symbolically: Eggs represent creation and a new beginning, salt represents cleansing and wholesomeness, milk stands for purity and flour for the substance of life.
Jesus reminded His disciples that they should not look mournful when they fasted and so the church found it fitting to start a fast with a feast!
Job says to God: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)
Ash Wednesday is primarily a day of repentance – of sorrow because of what our sins do to God, His work and those around us.
According to the Bible, repentance consists of:
• a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness;
• an expectation of God’s grace and mercy
• an actual hatred of sin
• turning from sin to God
• seeking a holy life by obediently walking with God.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation but worldly sorrow brings death. (2Cor7:10)
In the very traditional observation of Ash Wednesday, worshippers come forward to confess and repent of their sin in silent prayer. They are marked with the sign of the cross, using a paste of ash and olive oil. The ash represents the sorrow and contriteness we feel over our sin. The olive oil represents joy, blessing and consecration which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are marked with the sign of the cross to remind us that it is Christ who saves us.
Often as they are marked, the priest or elder will say “Your sins are forgiven – go and sin no more.”
Ash Wednesday starts the “Fasting” of Lent on the right foot – we realise how badly we need God.
What do I mean? Many people give up things for Lent: Coffee, Facebook, Shaving, Media, Sugar, etc. This year we’d like to challenge you to add to your life! For example:
Set aside daily/weekly time to walk around your neighbourhood (or a greenbelt) picking up litter.
Make a decision to write 1 or 2 encouraging letters to people around you each week.
Think of a few lonely people to contact over Lent.
Choose to work with a charity project or an outreach project, making a difference for the poor and needy.
Help raise funds for a needy cause.
Offer lifts to people without transport or help housebound folk with shopping.
When you make your or your kids’ lunch sandwiches, make an extra set and hand them out to someone in need. (Or buy some tins of food (with ring pulls) to hand out)
Go and help at an animal shelter
This can be a powerful thing for families. Sit down together with your family and come up with a Lent Plan to do some things that will make a difference and remember that Jesus calls us to do this discreetly “not letting our left hand know what the right is doing.”
Lent is a wonderful time to prepare for Easter, but sometimes I worry that we over-spiritualise it and are too self-centred. In these tough times let us actively choose “not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom12:21).
We hope that your Lent experience will be a profound one.
God bless and Much Love,