Having grown up in Catholic schools, Lent was laced into my internal calendar, even if I had no real idea what it meant.
I remember giving up chocolate or soda for Lent. While I wish I could say I gave them up because I understood the Lenten season, I think I gave them up more for the potential by-products of clearer skin or dropping an inch or two. That being said, I am grateful to have been tuned to the liturgical calendar, as it now means much more to me.
Similar to Advent which prepares our heart for the Coming of the Christ, Lent is a 40-day season of preparation meant to mirror the 40-day temptation of Christ in the wilderness. While it was likely practiced as early as Apostolic times, it was not made official Church stuff until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Initially it was a time of preparation for those seeking to be baptized into the Christian Church, which explains its focus on self-control and evaluation.
While I no longer give things up for Lent, I do look forward to it as an evaluative season, as a chance to reset my rambunctious heart on Christ, the Redeemer.
This year, Lent has snuck on me and caught me tired and treading water. I have let my schedule full of ministry and good things outgrow my intimacy with Christ. And I am worn and weary.
As much as I want to appear like someone who has prepared well for 40 days of poignant study of myself, the Scriptures and the Saviour, I am limping into Lent.
But it is better that I am limping, as Lent wasn’t meant to be a pageant of our self-righteousness or a parade of our own powers of self-control. Lent was meant to be a searching time, a time of repositioning under His powers, a regular reminder of His righteousness.
Just as Christ was sent into the His wilderness temptation after being assured of His standing before His Father, it is right that I should head into Lent assured of the Father’s pleasure before any preparation.
Lent and Light
The Scriptures continually mention the fact that we will all one day stand before the Lord in His exposing brilliant holiness.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4: 13.
While this day will come for every human, the Christian is meant to invite the light.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. John 3: 20-21.
Lent means coming to the Light, which sounds lovely but feels like exposure.
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults; keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then, I shall be blameless and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19: 12-14.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24.
The Christian can invite the search light of the Scriptures in the hand of the Holy Spirit to come and search his or her heart because of our confidence in the cleansing blood of the perfect Christ.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Psalm 51:1-2.
Because of Christ’s ability to resist the Enemy’s temptations to shortcuts to the glory, power and provision of the Father, I can enter 40 days of exposure with expectancy and joy!
Speaking of his own preparation for Lent, Frederick Buechner wrote the following, which I have made the watchword for my limping into this Lent.
“To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”