Lent began today, barely eliciting a ripple in my ecclesiastical tradition. The churches I have been involved in haven’t really promoted Lent. Too Catholic for our Evangelical Protestantism. I’m afraid we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water. But a few years ago I dipped my toes into the water to try it out. I found that it enhanced my experience of Easter, making me more mindful of its steady approach and preparing my heart for its rich celebration.
Lent is a season of preparation; a time when Christians prepare for Easter with a forty day period of self-denial. We enter into the suffering of Christ with some small measure of self-imposed sacrifice. Some would consider it a form of penance, but because of the sacramental baggage that penance carries, I think of it as a reminder. My deprivation does nothing to earn my forgiveness, but it does remind me of the great suffering of Christ upon which my forgiveness rests. When I give up something of value, that deprivation will interfere with my life and disrupt my routine. This disturbance gets my attention and points me to the cross. It is the string on the finger as a reminder of the nails in the wrists. It’s a reminder I need.
I wrote this in 2012, reflecting on Lent.
“Today was a glorious day in Central New York – sunny and mid 60s, the perfect weather. I set aside my plans and opted instead for a long walk with my wife. I felt compelled to be outdoors. I suppose if everyday were like this we’d begin to take it for granted. But part of what makes this day so glorious is that it comes in early March. There was still a bit of snow in our yard at the start of the day. It has been a mild winter by Syracuse standard, but it’s winter all the same. Mild for Syracuse is still more severe than most. We’ve had our share of snow and ice, harsh wind and bitter cold. But in thirteen years here I have learned that spring is more glorious when it rescues us from winter. The contrast with the harsh cold makes the warm sunshine that much sweeter.
Our ignoring Lent is like wanting spring without winter. We love to bask in the victory of Easter. We don’t particularly enjoy entering into the deprivation of Lent. We’re tempted to put all our eggs in the Easter basket. But Lent sets the stage for a more intense contrast. It is a self imposed winter. It is preparing my heart for Spring.
My approach is not complicated, but it is intentional. My practice is this –I subtract in order to add. I choose to give up something of value during Lent and add something that is spiritually meaningful. The subtracting is some form of fasting, though it need not relate to food. The adding is some spiritual discipline – memorization, study, meditation, reading etc. that I sense God leading me to focus on. Each year is different based on what I sense God has for me at the time.
Might I encourage you to engage in this season of preparation. Ask God what he would have you do to prepare your heart for Easter. How will you fill in the formula of subtracting in order to add?
One last note. This Sunday at 6:30 we will have a praise concert with the praise team from Northside Church in Liverpool, NY. It will be a wonderful time of worship and I hope you will be able to attend.