I like Lent. There’s so much about Lent to truly appreciate and enjoy. The solemnity, the austerity, the self-examination and repentance, the fasting… this is a glorious time to be part of the church, isn’t it?
And I know that several of you are ready for the punchline, for the grand reveal of the joke… but that was it. That was the punchline. That I like Lent. And without a doubt, some of you are sitting there thinking, “Oh Dan. No no no no no.” You might be thinking to yourself, “That is exactly why I don’t like Lent. It’s so dark, and what about the joy of following in the way of Jesus?”
There are a few main things that come to mind for me when I think about why it is that I DO like Lent. To give away the plot, that it is a call to do better, a call to simplicity, and that it gets into our daily lives in a way that no other parts of the life of the Church do.
The first is the call to repentance and self-examination. In particular, I appreciate that the message of the season is that we can do better. That there are things that we do that by self-examination and a renewed commitment to the essentials of our faith that we can reorient our selves, our souls and bodies, to God. And that we CAN do better. I don’t know about you, but I have room for improvement in the ways that I treat others, in how patient I am toward others, in how I treat and respond to others when they do things that I don’t like, or that rub up against my own shortcomings and growing edges! And there’s more compassion I can have toward those who struggle, and those who have their own shortcomings and growing edges.
I find that life is one continuous stream of growing self-awareness to new parts of my life that can be redeemed by the love of God. And in Lent, we have this intentional call to find those things, to face them, and to do better–as individuals and as a communion and collection of people.
Second, that Lent is a call to simplicity. In many ways, it’s a call to slow down, to worry less, to do less, to be anxious about less. To recognize that there is more to this life than our jobs and our houses or cars what schools our children go to, or the other things of this world that are, in the eyes of the eternity that is in front of us, rather meaningless. And as we are reminded of what does have meaning, many times that leads to less anxiety about the things that worry or frighten us so much. So the outworking of it all is sometimes a natural movement to greater simplicity and enjoyment and appreciation of the good things that we have in this life, and the joy and comfort of what awaits us in the next–because we believe in the majestic love of God as shown and shared through Christ.
Third, that Lent, more than any other season of the church year, has a way of getting into our daily lives, which gets to the heart of why I like Lent so much. It’s the one part of the Church year that truly asks something of us. In Advent, we have a joyful and angst-ridden anticipation of Christmas. But that is less about the spiritual moment than it is about getting together with family and the giving of gifts – which is only marginally connected to the meaning of the day. In Easter, we have that short window of time that we think with joy upon the grace and love shown us in the resurrection…
But Lent asks us to pay attention each and every day by changing our behaviors as a way to bring our faith more and more into our daily lives. Epiphany and Pentecost and all summer long the season of the year might mean something for the brief hour that we are together in the church, but it doesn’t make its way into our lives on Monday or Tuesday. Because truth be told, unless you are on altar Guild you’re not thinking about these things during the week.
But precisely because of the unusual spiritual disciplines that come with Lent, it gets you thinking about it every day, multiple times per day at that. Who knew that something as simple as not drinking a glass of wine with dinner, not opening your phone until after breakfast, watching less television, or these other things would be so significant of a change in our lives that it gets us thinking about our faith and what it means to follow Christ? But that is the nature of the thing, that it asks to be part of our daily lives and to remind us that it’s there, that it can’t be so easily forgotten about. And more than that, the things that we do that we didn’t do before — new forms of prayer, of almsgiving, of reflecting on Scripture that we add at this time — add to this presence that the season takes on in our lives.
THAT there is perhaps what I most appreciate about the season: That it has a way of bringing our spirituality to touch upon more and more of our lives. To consider how your belief in God affects the little things throughout your day. I’m always longing for a heart that is more and more set on Christ and that my faith would permeate all that I do. That everything that I do would be shaped by what I believe about God’s presence and work in the world. That how I talk to you would be always shaped by my belief about God’s presence in our world. That the way I drive would always be shaped by my belief about God’s presence in our world. That the things that I buy and how I spend my spare time would be shaped by my belief about God’s presence in our world.
And what I find is that this season of the Church year, these 40 days of Lent, help me to do that. So I pray for you all that it might be the same for you. That by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, this would truly be a holy Lent for us all.