I have recently become more aware of a way of living as a Christian that is far older than any ideas of mine on the subject. It is called the liturgical calendar. Basically, as I understand it, the church created a way to celebrate the life of Jesus throughout the year by means of different seasons, fasts, celebrations, and holidays. You probably know that as a part of this we have Christmas and Easter, but what I did not know is that throughout the course of one calendar year, the liturgy covers the entire life of Christ. The surprise for me was that there is a great intentionality behind it all. It wasn’t just the accumulated festivals and religiosity of the ages. Not only is there intentionality, but that intentionality is designed to where if you follow the calendar, you have over the course of one year recognized Jesus’s entire earthly ministry. I could talk more about this, and you can find a blog on it HERE, but what I really want to set the stage for is Lent.
Lent is a forty-day season that lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter without including Sundays. It was first recognized by the church at the Council of Nicea in 325. The purpose of Lent is to recognize the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness found in Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4. Lent is observed with a fast to basically join in with Jesus in his self-denial in the wilderness.
Let’s pause right there.
I have not pointed out a bunch of religious hoops to jump through or made any indication that lent has any salvific or somehow magical blessing properties. God will not love you any more because of your observance of Lent (because he already loves you so much!).
At its heart Lent is a way of focusing. It is an immersive learning and religious experience.
If reading about Jesus’s suffering is like a day in school, then Lent is a field trip. It is an opportunity to let those things you could read leap off the page. It is a chance, in a small way, to join Jesus in his wilderness wanderings and to deny yourself so that you may know him more.
Even better, it works within the liturgical calendar.
Imagine this: Easter Sunday.
Now imagine this: You have just spent forty-days denying yourself of some earthly comfort as a means by which you might recognize idols, dependencies, and sin in your life. You have become keenly aware of your need for a savior once again. Now, Easter Sunday. It arrives with all of the triumph, joy, and feasting it deserves. Jesus reigns over sin and death and all of my own failures. Hallelujah.
I don’t want to give you an exact method for observing Lent. There are ways to do it from giving up food, to screens, to time, to who knows what. You can give up things you know you shouldn’t use or have anyway, give up good things that you may be overly attached to, or even give up something good just for the sake of focusing on Christ. The important thing is to make sure that you are using the frustration, the margin, or the disruption that comes with fasting as a way to self-reflect and seek after God. Ask God what you should fast from, and I believe he will show you.
Here is a prayer/poem that I am reflecting on as I observe Lent this year: