I have a confession for you this week, but first, a Public Service Announcement: next Wednesday is Valentine’s Day! It may not seem like we’re deep enough into 2024 for this to be true, nonetheless here we are! Gentlemen: follow the scouts: be prepared!
Coincidentally, February 14th also marks another (perhaps slightly more important) event in the life of the church: the beginning for the season of Lent. The first day of Lent is traditionally known as “Ash Wednesday” because it is marked with the imposition of ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross. This biblical practice is designed to help us confront our mortality, repent of our sin and enter a season of preparation that will reach its climax on Easter Sunday morning.
Ash Wednesday and Lent were largely lost to the Protestant world until its richness was rediscovered in the 20th century. Our Catholic brothers and sisters have long observed both as part of their liturgical calendar (the practice actually predates the formal beginnings of the Catholic Church, so Christians have observed Lent for at least 1,600 years!), but a huge portion of the Church distanced themselves from rituals that the early reformers felt were too ‘Catholic’ to carry forward. Thankfully, we’re correcting that mistake and leaning into the tremendous spiritual power of this season. Its central foci are preparation for Easter, repentance of those ways that we have fallen away from Christ and recommitment of our hearts to the Lord. There may not be a more important 40-day period in your entire year.
For many, Lenten observances are focused on fasting from particular foods or practices as a way of being reminded of our reliance on God’s provision and of the sacrifice of Christ. However Lent can also be a season in which new practices or habits are added to our daily lives in order to bring us closer to Christ and more aligned with God’s will. If you have observed Lent by fasting or adding in the past, I invite you to do the opposite this year! Find a new way of focusing your heart on Christ; look for new habits that will help you live as God intended you to live. Likewise, if you haven’t experienced Lent before, I invite you to begin by adding something new to your daily routine that will bear fruit in your relationship with God. Perhaps that will mean a few minutes in prayer each day, reading the Bible each evening, or intentionally choosing to serve a different neighbor each week. The options are nearly limitless!
I’ll confess to an ulterior motive at this point. Part of my hope for our church this Lent is that we might take on a Lenten practice together. What if we allow the answer to this question to build new habits that bring us closer to God and each other: If Easter is true, what does it mean for our neighbors? If Jesus is telling us that the most important commandment is to love God and love our neighbors, then perhaps we could love God by loving our neighbor this Lent!
I have a specific answer in mind to this question about the implications of Easter, and I can’t wait to share it with you this Sunday!