What is Lent? I find it interesting that as youth workers we are always looking for a new series to do with our students. We inherently know that we must mix up the ritual and routine of youth group or kids will get board and get into a rut. This need to mix things up might actually come from God himself. I think that we were actually created for seasons, for change, for rhythm. And this need for annual celebrations is affirmed all throughout scripture with the commands to celebrate all the different festivals.
While this need for seasonal change is needed and expected, many Christians seem to discard the traditional season change in the Church. According to the church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday marking the transition from “ordinary time” to the season of Lent.
According to Wikipedia, Lent is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer - through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.
Lent is the worst season in the Church.
There are several different seasons we celebrate in the church. Some of them are official church seasons and some are traditional youth ministry seasons. As far as traditional seasons go, my favorite is Advent. This is a season I can really get behind. The entire focus is on anticipating the coming of Christmas. Even the world celebrates Advent by decorating stores as early as October. This season of preparation is filled with warm hearted traditions. It is an opportunity to mix up the rhythms of life and ministry and gives us a fresh start. This season doesn’t cost us anything.
Besides traditional church calendar seasons we have traditional programatic seasons we celebrate as well. We have our Fall kick-off season and our gearing up for mission trip season. These are natural times in our calendar when we mix things up and for a short period of time add extra effort and excitement to prepare for the new year or a big trip. This season doesn’t really cost us anything either.
Unlike other seasons in ministry and in the church, Lent is not about promoting anything. Lent is not about adding thrill and excitement. Lent is about prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial. These are the four least exciting things we can use in ministry. They all might be things we do in isolation or as part of other things we do, like praying and giving to the poor. But a season of it is not glamorous.
Lent costs us something.
Many people shy away from Lent and discard it because it is “Catholic.” But if we are honest and drill a little deeper, I think the real reason we discard Lent is because it is season of self-sacrifice. We live in a world where we are not asked to give up anything. In fact the exact opposite is true. After a while, I actually start to believe that I deserve everything. And when things don’t go my way or I have to wait for something longer then I expect I spiral out.
Maybe out of my entire life, a six week season of self-sacrifice might be exactly what I need. Maybe Christians for thousands of years actually were on to something when they broke up the calendar and added a season of Lent to prepare our hearts for the Resurrection of our Lord. Maybe God has something new to teach me through a discipline that is foreign to every part of my flesh. So maybe, Lent is something I will consider a fresh this year.
Today is Ash Wednesday.
In a context where everything always needs to be amazing and full of energy, Lent might be exactly what we need. Thankfully today is the day that begins this unique season. In many traditions Lent begins with an Ash Wednesday service, where at the conclusion of the service you would be marked with ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance.
Celebration is not the only language of the church. We paint a false view of our faith and of the world when we continually hype everything up. The author of Ecclesiastes was onto something when he said that there is a time for celebration and a time to mourn.
James 4:7-10 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will life you up.”
Draw Near to God.
It is a proven exercise, that self-denial, prayer, almsgiving, and penitence actually help us draw near to God. Lent is a season where we take our sin and the cost of our sin seriously, where we give up cheap grace and actually get our flesh under control. And as we die to our flesh, grieve, mourn, and wail, and spend a season in humility, we will find that God will in fact lift us up.
During this season what are you going to give up, to sacrifice to prove that your flesh is not your master? What rhythms are you going to add or subtract to intentionally unite your heart to Christ’s through humility and almsgiving? How can you come to terms with our own mortality so that you can anxiously await the celebration of the Resurrection and our own resurrection some day?
This Lenten season, May you come near to God, and may he come near to you. Blessings.