“What is Lent, and why should I pay attention to it?”
This is a reasonable question. The season is intended to remind us of the Forty Days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, wrestling with the Evil One.
The earliest Christians had established a forty-day period prior to Easter during which converts to the faith were prepared for their first full participation in the Christian community, most particularly The Lord’s Supper. It was also a time when those, who through “Notorious sins” had been separated from the community, were given the opportunity to repent, and once again to rejoin the church.
It was for all members of the community a period of fasting and prayer, of extra devotion, and acts of service, all in preparation for the great Festival of Easter.
A forty-day period of preparation has a venerable history throughout the Hebrew Bible. Moses, for example, spent forty days on Mount Sinai as he received the Law from the Lord (Exodus 24:18). Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness on his journey to Mount Horeb (Kings 19:8). “Forty Days” in the Bible generally means a good long time—not necessarily a precisely timed period.
That brings me back to the original question: what does the season mean for us today? Life today is busier than it has ever been in human history. We work more, have more things to do, more things to distract us, more things to occupy our time than ever before in human history. Just consider, for example, how much time you spend on your smart phone each day!
So Lent becomes for us an opportunity to regroup, rethink, and renew. It is a chance for us to become more disciplined in our reading of scripture. It is an opportunity for us to sift through the busyness of our lives as a means of resetting our priorities.
Most of us grew up around members of church traditions for whom Lent meant “Giving up something”, like chocolate, chewing gum, a favorite food, that five-dollar latte, and so on. While giving up such things is never a bad idea, this kind of self-denial should be regarded as a means to an end, not an end in of itself. Laying aside such habits can give us the gift of time.
When we give ourselves more time to become aware of Christ’s presence in our lives, of the gifts of friends and family, of the riches of Scripture, we might find that some things that have become habits for us can be put aside not just for these forty days, but for good and all.
If we can simplify our meals, for example, eating less meat, taking the time to actually prepare food instead of grabbing whatever is quick and easy, we can make ourselves more aware of the bounty that God provides for us, and how eating according to need rather than according to desire can help us be more aware of hunger and poverty in our communities.
Most important, simplifying our lives gives us the gift of Time: gives us the opportunity for introspection and growth—to increase our self-awareness, and how our lives interconnect with, and affect the lives of those around us. We can find more time for Christ, and reflect more deeply on the meaning of his Resurrection.
We can prepare ourselves to be Raised with Christ into New Life.
Peace and blessings during this Holy Season,