Keeping a Holy Lent
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
- Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer
The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, reminds us of our mortality. We begin with humility and repentance by publicly acknowledging that our sins doom us to death and eternal separation from God. And yet Jesus is our hope – the resurrection and the life.
The season of Lent last for 40 days immediately preceding Easter and is marked by fasting, repentance, and preparation. The Sundays during Lent are not counted in the fast and are celebrated as feast days because Sunday is always a celebration of the resurrection and a day to remember God’s mercy towards us in Christ.
The early church began to observe Lent in the 3rd century. It was a time of preparation for baptism for new converts patterned after Jesus 40 days of temptation in the desert. It was also a time when those who had broken relationship with God’s people were reconciled to the body and restored to full communion.
Over time, the whole church began to keep the season of Lent as a time to repent and rededicate their lives to following Jesus. It is a reminder that we are all sinners who are saved by grace alone. And we need seasons of renewal where we return to the practices that nurture holiness and the life of the Holy Spirit in us.
Lent is a journey with Jesus that leads to knowing him better. Resist the urge to focus on giving something up for Lent. Keeping a Holy Lent is never about our willpower. It is about returning to the Lord through repentance and renewal. The Church has traditionally done this through fasting, prayer and giving.
Going with food is a humbling act that reminds us of our total dependence on God for all of life (Mat. 4:1-2). Traditionally people fast on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and additional days during Lent. You may choose to fast on certain days or from particular meals or abstain from certain foods. Or you may abstain from something else that is meaningful to you. Remember that fasting is a spiritual discipline and not a diet. If you give something up during Lent, make sure that you can joyfully take it back up to celebrate on Sundays.
Whether you fast or abstain during Lent, giving something up allows us to have more resources to give to others (Isa. 58:6-7). Consider giving the value of what you do not consume to help others. For example, if you chose to drink only water during Lent, you could give the money you would spend on coffee and other drinks to help build wells for those who lack clean water. Fasting is always an opportunity to meet the needs of others in the name of Jesus.
Lent is a season of returning to the Lord and prayer is the best way to reorient our hearts to him (Mat. 6:6). We are calling all of Restoration to join together in prayer during this season to discern where God is leading us as a congregation. Pray for wisdom in finding a new building, provision for our needs, and a renewed passion for our mission to join God in the Restoration of all things.
Today, repent and believe in the Good News of our Lord Jesus who gave his life to make you holy and bring you into right standing with our Father in Heaven.