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Discovering Lent

Discovering Lent

by Anthony Estes

When I first discovered the liturgical season of Lent, I was an Evangelical, and I remember thinking how impossible it would be for me to “observe Lent” appropriately. The suppression of liturgical Alleluias and subdued liturgies were mystifying. Most Evangelical Christians do not observe Lent (but I have yet to meet one who doesn’t indulge in sugary treats on Fat Tuesday). I thought, how could people who believe in the risen Lord be sad or somber?

Moored in traditions dating back to the earliest centuries of Christian practice, Christ-followers observed Lent with public action, penance and fasting. In this span of time, myriad ways of keeping the holiness of Lent ranged from the somber to the sanguine, from abstinence during the week and complete relaxation of restrictions on Sundays (feast days, even in Lent. IKR?!)

Today, I now understand that Lent is not about being sad or somber. On the one hand, Lent is this extraordinary moment in the life-cycle of the Church to remember that we are all sinners and that our only hope of salvation is in the suffering and victorious Son of God. We acquaint ourselves with the humanness of God and meet ourselves. Our suffering is his suffering, and we wait for God’s vindication by resurrecting his Son.

On the other hand, Lent has become a time for the Church to fast, abstaining from meat or restricting their diets to just one meal a day. Some even fast by abstaining from technology (God bless ’em). The spiritual benefits of fasting include the heightening of sensitivity to God’s activity in the world. The idea is by denying ourselves some of the things we want the most, our hunger for God increases.

How one observes the fast or otherwise keeps Lent varies from person to person. And with so many traditions and various places on the spectrum of Lenten temperaments, how should one keep Lent?

I think we find the answer in Jesus’ teachings. In the Gospel lesson read on Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 6-21), Jesus connects alms-giving to prayer to fasting. I think any observance of Lent can include these three elements. So give generously, participate in the many opportunities at church and, if you’re thinking of taking on a dietary fast, please confer with your physician to make sure that you don’t take on more than you can chew (See what I did there?).

If you will abstain from nonessential technology or refuse to keep up with those Kardashians, good for you! Use that time and energy to spend more time with your family and friends. And speaking of friends and family, perhaps consider re-connecting with those with whom you are estranged. After all, Lent is about acknowledging our brokenness and realizing that all the hope for reconciliation and wholeness is in Jesus Christ.