Most of us have favorite holiday seasons. For some it’s Christmas, with the family get-togethers and presents. For others it’s the Fourth of July and summer, filled by a sense of national pride and beach vacations. But each year at just about this time, it strikes me that very few of us would pick Lent as a favorite. Face it, it is cold, dark and you never know when another snow day is going to extend the school year into the summer.
Nobody is crossing off days on the calendar until Ash Wednesday; leaving work just a little early, saying “I’ve got to get my Lenten shopping done;”
The trouble with Lent is fairly clear. It’s buried right in the heart of the primary reading for Ash Wednesday, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6: “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Lent is about sacrifice about fasting. We all think we could loose a few extra pounds but nobody really fasts anymore.
That’s the problem, Lent feels like this strange. Each year fewer and fewer churches observe the traditions of Lent. I once talked with a church member who was asking questions about why we had to give up things for lent. She said that she sacrifices enough already to get her kids through college, to save for retirement, to put that new roof on the house, she did not want the church to ask her to sacrifice things as well.
Each year, I listen to my non-Lent-observing friends knock it as “works theology” and my Lent-observing friends complain about it as a pain in the…you know what, the same question inevitably demands loudly to be answered: Why Lent. I mean, who really needs it?
But you know what? Each year, whatever my feelings approaching Lent may be, the same answer comes whispering back: I do. Just maybe…I need Lent. Just maybe I need a time to focus, to get my mind off of my career, my social life, my next sermon – and a hundred other things to which I look for meaning – and center myself in meaning itself.
Just maybe I need a time to help clear my head of the distractions which any involved life in this world will necessarily bring and re-orient myself towards the Maker of all that was given for my pleasure and which I have let become merely distracting.
Maybe I need the opportunity – and perhaps deep down I crave the chance to let go of the unbearable revelation of the God who loves God’s children enough to take the form of a man hanging on a tree.
And maybe, just maybe Lent is God’s. Maybe Lent is God’s gift to a people starved for meaning, for courage, for comfort, for life.
If it is then maybe we’ll also begin to recall, that we are wholly God’s – God’s own possession and treasure.
Seen this way, Lent reminds us of whose we are. The “sacrifices,” the disciplines, these are not intended as good works offered by us to God; rather, they are God’s gifts to us to remind us who we are, God’s adopted daughters and sons, God’s treasure, so priceless that God was willing to go to any length to tell us that we are loved, that we have value, that we have purpose.
Yes. I need Lent. I need an absence of gifts so that I might acknowledge the Gift. I need a time to be quiet and still, a time to crane my neck and lift my head, straining to hear again what was promised me at Baptism: “You are mine! I love you! I am with you!” I need Lent, finally, to remind me of who I am – God’s heir and Christ’s co-heir – so that, come Easter, I can rejoice and celebrate with all the joy, all the revelry, all the anticipation, of a true heir to the throne.
And so yes, I need Lent. And to tell you the truth, I suspect that you do, too. You see, if Lent’s in trouble, it’s only because we’re in trouble, so busy trying to make or keep or save our lives that we fail to notice that God has already saved us and has already freed us to live with each other and for each other all the rest of our days. And so we have Lent, a gift of the church, the season during which God prepares us to behold God’s own great sacrifice for us, with the hope and prayer that, come Good Friday and Easter, we may be immersed once again into God’s mercy and perceive more fully God’s great love for us and all the world and in this way find the peace and hope and freedom that we so often lack.
This year during the season of Lent, Faith Lutheran Church is going to explore all the aspect of Lent through Matthew Chapter 6. I invite you to join us on Sunday mornings at 9:00 am or 11:00 am to hear more of the story of the season of Lent and how you can make it a part of your life so you can fully embrace the love of God in your life.
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