Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Growing up Protestant I rarely considered Lent, other than to hear my Catholic friends bemoaning all of the fish they had to eat and the chocolate they were giving up. I considered myself lucky to be able to skip this age old church discipline. What I didn’t realize was that I was missing out on a particularly rich practice that would make Easter an even more spectacular day than I had ever known it could be.
It all started almost 19 years ago in the church of my childhood. We had just moved back to Michigan and were attending the church I had grown up in, a traditional Reformed church. The whole thing happened so casually it’s really remarkable to me how big an impact it had on me. But isn’t that just the way God works, it seemed random to me but to Him it was all part of HIs plan for me, it was a gift he’d held until that moment. And what was this remarkable gift? A thin little paperback pamphlet of Lenten readings by Henri Nouwen. They were just sitting there for the taking and so I grabbed one and tucked it into my bible once I got home. Mind you at this point in my life I wasn’t even a regular bible reader.
This really was a twofold gift; first, I was introduced to the practice of Lenten observance and second, I was introduced to Henri Nouwen, a man whose writing continues to be an integral part of my faith walk to this day.
As with all things of God, however, where we start is not where we are meant to stay and that has definitely been the case with my observance of this Holy season. Lent is a threefold discipline that includes forms of fasting, prayer, and service or charity. How we choose to observe this season, or even if we choose not to, is entirely up to us. But let me say, that to skip the observance of Lent is to leave a great gift unopened.
Lent is also a journey, a journey to the cross but ultimately to Resurrection Sunday, Easter. On Easter we celebrate the risen King Jesus and his defeat of sin and death on the cross. Because of what transpired between Good Friday and Easter Sunday we are forever granted access to God the Father. I love how Paul Tripp puts it, “because of Jesus I never have to see the back of God the Father walking away from me in disappointment or rejection.” Because of Jesus I am always met with open, loving arms ready to receive me regardless of my current condition. But a major aspect of those open, loving arms is repentance. I’m never rejected but that does not mean that I can ignore my sin or continue in it unchecked. And that’s another beautiful aspect of Lent, these 40 days are a preparation of our hearts for the joy of Easter morning. For 40 days I do some hard work on my sin, I scour the house for any crumbs of unconfessed sin and I take them to my loving Father in prayer. I allow the Holy Spirit unfettered access to my life, to the depths of my heart and I confess whatever is revealed. I do this with the word of God as my guide and fasting as a reminder of the sacrifice he made for me, and it doesn’t stop there, I also practice practical forms of service and charity while denying myself.
Maybe it all sounds like too much, maybe it leaves you feeling like you’re trapped in another set of legalistic rules and that’s exactly what Jesus came to free you from, so you say; “ No way, this is not for me.” I understand, and I echo your words one hundred percent. But what I’m inviting you to is a feast of God’s goodness, not a banquet of rules. Maybe you won’t choose to fast from anything but could you give some focused time in the word, could you invite the Holy Spirit to search your heart? Maybe the idea of denying yourself some thing brings up negative memories for you, could you look at picking up a new habit of prayer or bible reading for 40 days instead?
During the Lenten season we will be journaling verses on Repentance as a way of preparing for Holy Week and Easter. For Holy Week we will be reading larger chunks of scripture that will take us through the entire Easter story with reflective journaling to accompany the daily readings. For those of you who join me in this journey, I pray that you are blessed and that Easter is more meaningful for you because of these practices.