The season of Lent is just around the corner. For some of you this comes as a surprise, since Lent is not something you’re very familiar with. Perhaps you thought to yourself, ‘Isn’t Lent a Catholic thing?’ Growing up in a charismatic Pentecostal church, I was more familiar with the word ‘Shekinah’ than ‘Lent.’ For others of you, you wish I hadn’t reminded you of it. Lent has come to represent an old-fashioned, religious weight. Something required of you.
I want you to consider Lent not as a requirement, but as an opportunity.
The various seasons of the liturgical church year are carefully crafted around the main events of Jesus’ life to help us know and worship Him. The unchanging cycle of the church year frames our constantly changing experiences. Regardless of what’s going on in our lives or in the world, the church year tells us that now is a season to celebrate, or to slow down, or to fast, or to feast. These predictable patterns of life form our identity. We too easily forget certain aspects of the Christian story or put too much emphasis on some parts to the detriment of the others.
"I want you to consider Lent not as a requirement, but as an opportunity."
The early Christians observed the days of Jesus death and resurrection, and it became the custom of the church to prepare for them by a season of repentance and fasting. Lent is a time to slow down and create space for prayer, silence, and contemplation; to prepare our hearts for Easter so we don’t rush into holy week in an unthoughtful way.
Henri Nouwen writes: "How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death?"
During Lent we recognize our failures, weakness, sins, and utter hopelessness apart from Jesus. We take time to confess, repent, seek forgiveness, and ask God to awaken us to the presence and conviction of the Spirit; all essential elements to spiritual health.
So if a church season can help us become a more repentant, empowered people, then shouldn’t we pay attention and participate?