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Archive for February 24th, 2009

Lent?

Today is the last day of Epiphany (Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) and tomorrow is the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday). Most Christians see no problems with celebrating Christmas and Easter and the feasts that come with these two major celebrations, Epiphany and Pentecost. It’s the times of preparation for these two major feasts (Christmas and Easter) that are questioned, Advent and Lent (and especially Lent). And it’s understandable. It seems that the only reasons we hear for observing Lent are wrong reasons (e.g., we should give up meat to honor the animals who provide so much food for us gluttonous Americans; therefore we all ought to observe Lent by eating a piece of celery and saving a cow’s life — at least for 40 more days). And if it’s not something really dumb, the reason seems to center around atoning for our sins by acts of self-denial (in some way or another). No wonder people are suspicious of Lent.

Lent is the season set aside by the Church as a time of preparation for the feast of Easter. This season lasts 40 days (not counting Sundays). In the Scripture, the number forty is the number associated with trials. Lent is a time for self-examination. It is to be a time when we recall that our sins made the sufferings and death of Jesus necessary. Thus, it is a time when we as the people of God give special attention to repentance (confessing our sins and devoting ourselves to new obedience). There are, of course, right ways and wrong ways to do this, but the emphasis is a good one.

But someone says, “So why do we need Lent to examine ourselves and repent? Aren’t we supposed to do that year round?” Of course, we should repent of our sins and seek spiritual growth at all times, not just during this season. But I could ask the same question in regard to Christmas or Easter. Why have a special season to focus upon the incarnation or the resurrection? Shouldn’t we remember the incarnation and the resurrection every day? Sure we should. But Christmas and Easter give us the opportunity to focus upon these amazing realities and celebrate them. They call us to meditate upon the glory of God becoming man and breaking the power of sin and death — and thus, they help us to remember them every day. Lent does a similar thing. It gives us a stated season, a formal structure for all of us to examine ourselves and repent of our sins as individuals and as a church. Lent underscores for us the importance of dealing with our sins so that we don’t ignore them the rest of the year. And it gives us an occasion to do this together, in communion.

Lent, therefore, is a time for focusing upon our sins, a time for asking questions about our spiritual health: What are my besetting sins, and how can I work and pray for change? What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for the living God has grown cold? In what ways is my devotion to Christ and his church less than wholehearted? The Lenten season is like an annual physical. It’s an annual checkup on the well-being of our hearts and lives. (more…)

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