The Season of Lent begins this Wednesday. Here’s a brief explanation of how this season shapes Christian identity.
The Christian calendar helps to train us in being fully and truly Christian. Many of us are used to having our brains trained to be Christian brains. We just haven’t given much thought to our bodies and our loves and our longings. Most of us were raised to think Christian thoughts—that’s the sum and substance of being Christian.
But the Christian calendar helps to train our whole being in being Christian–our bodies, our hearts, our desires, and our longings.
The Advent season in December, leading up to Christmas, helps us to look forward, to anticipate the arrival of the Son of God into the world. Because our daily lives are so busy and filled with instant messages, text messages, emails, news items, friend requests, status updates, and other tyrannical trivialities, we forget to long for a Savior from heaven and to pray that God would come to save and restore. We are too busy to wait actively and expectantly for King Jesus to return to defeat evil forever and redeem his broken creation. The rhythm and posture of Advent helps us to be Christian—to feel and long as Christian people.
The Lenten season has much the same purpose–it is a gift to us that helps to train us in being Christian. “Lent” comes from an old Germanic word for “spring-time,” and we can think of it as sort of a spiritual “Spring cleaning,” a time for self-evaluation, growth, penitence, and simplicity. This is a season for taking a good look at our lives and relationships. It’s a time for us to consider our corporate and personal relationships to God and God’s people. Are we being an obstacle to God’s people flourishing? If so, how? And how can I change? What sins do I need to repent of? What destructive practices do I need to identify and get rid of? What attitudes do I need to put to death, and how can I cultivate right ways of thinking and feeling?
Lent often involves giving something up, or fasting–some sort of discipline of the body. This has several purposes. It reminds us that we are creatures, that we are dependent upon God. When you give up a pleasure, or something that is normally a regular part of your life, you miss it. Your body longs for it. It’s what you think about all the time – you become obsessed! When we get this feeling, or this sense, or this obsession, we can let that remind us of our creatureliness—we are dependent on God. He is our life and our breath. We need him absolutely. These feelings can become like training wheels for our prayer habits. Whenever you get that feeling, you can pray this: “Lord, I need you. I am not independent. Lord, your creation needs you. Lord Jesus, come and save; come and restore.”
Lent, then, becomes a teacher, training us to long for the coming of the Lord to restore creation, to restore our bodies.
In addition to self-discipline and simplicity, this longing has a very important purpose as Lent leads up to Easter. If you’ve given up chocolate, or coffee, or some other pleasure, you start longing for it, looking forward to Easter when you can take it up again and fully enjoy it once more. Again, this longing becomes our teacher, training our bodies and our whole selves to long for Easter, to look forward with eagerness to the celebration of the victory of God over sin and death.