The Ashes: Reconsidering Lent
Today is Ash Wednesday. Its the day after Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, and drink all the beer in the fridge after work day. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season we know as Lent. Lent means “spring”, with its root in the German, Lenz, or Dutch, Lente.
It is interesting to me, when I hear from non-catholic friends “Lent is for Catholics”. What?! That is like saying “Advent is for Methodists” or “Weddings are for Presbyterians.” Can you imagine not decorating for Christmas, hearing Christmas carols, shopping for gifts, getting together with friends, and anticipating the birth of Jesus until December 25th? What would happen if there were no thought or preparations for a wedding until the day set on the calendar? Of course, there are some who prefer to do Christmas and weddings in this way, but for me, the anticipation is what makes the event so special!
There is no Biblical command regarding how we observe the 40 days prior to Easter. And, while the Catholic church does a great job emphasizing the importance of Lent and regulating some all church practices, it is not just for Catholics. Just like ignoring the days leading up to Dec 25t would diminish my Christmas joy, to ignore Lent would lessen the impact of Easter on my heart.
So what do we do? And more importantly, why do we do it?!
A good place to start is reading a very short passage in scripture, Matthew 4:1-11 (also in Mark 1, & Luke 4). Here we read of Jesus, shortly after his baptism being led by Holy Spirit into the desert. During those 40 days, He ate nothing. At the end of the fasting, the Bible says Jesus was ‘hungry’…ummm…hello understatement?! I’m guessing its there in case someone tries to speculate that a 40 day fast was easy since Jesus is the son of God. I think it should have said, ‘Jesus was fully human, fueled by calories, tempted by carbs, underweight, dehydrated, and hungry!’ At the end of the fast, Satan comes to tempt him with food, validation, and power. But, Jesus stands firm, clings to God and scripture, and Satan leaves. This is how Jesus began his formal ministry. Before He started calling fisherman and tax collectors to be disciples, He fasted for 40 days.
I was having fun reading Facebook posts about what people are ‘giving up’ for Lent. Common fasts are alcohol, chocolate, baked goods, fast food, swearing, TV, and Facebook. These are great! But I wonder (because this has definitely been true in my life) if the choosing of what to ‘give up’ was done with the desert, and Jesus, and Springtime in mind? Giving up sweets and alcohol is a healthy choice, but is it a diet or a path to true fulfillment? Spending less time with TV or FB is efficient and smart. We will waste less time, be less tempted toward jealousy, and get more done. But is it a discipline or an opportunity for discipleship?
Diets and disciplines are good and yield good results. Weight loss, beating sugar or caffeine addition, more productive work time, and more focused attention on people rather than screens are things many of us want! Lent is a time to go even deeper.
On Ash Wednesday, those who routinely observe the start of Lent will go to corporate worship and receive a cross of ashes on their head. For centuries, the dust of the ashes has represented our need to die to self. Where I live, in Indiana, its easy to look around and remember that all things die. The trees are bare, the grass is crispy, anything that once had a bloom is slumped over or hiding in the frosty ground. This is Lent. A time to die to ourselves so that way down deep, in the spaces only God sees, life can be brought forth again. New life requires death. Spring require winter. Resurrection requires crucifixion.
If you read this on February 13, a week later, or right before Easter Sunday, I’m inviting you to join me in reconsidering Lent. It’s not about 40+ days, so don’t let that stop you. Lent is about spring, about finding life after death. It is about knowing that in the deep, dark, dying places, God is preparing new beginnings and life.
1. How does what I’ve chosen to fast from during Lent cause me to die to myself and make room for Christ?
1b. What should I chose to fast from during Lent to cause me to die to myself and make room for Christ?
2. In the most vulnerable time of His fast, Jesus faced tremendously difficult temptation. If, at the end of Lent, my toughest temptation or circumstance is put before me, will my inclination to cling to God and scripture be stronger than it is today?
3. Jesus began his formal ministry after 40 day of fasting, prayer, and temptation. Does God have a ‘new beginnings’ or another step forward in His plan for my life? (He does!) How can I best listen to His voice during my fast?
Thank you for sharing your Lenten experience with me. My prayer for us all is that we go deeper and hear His voice.
Ash Wednesday…beautiful dust.