Using Lent to Your Advantage

Sometimes something old can be the source of something new.

As I mentioned last Sunday, the stresses and tensions that we have been through over the past few years have left many people struggling to cope.  It feels like just as we just find our way through one storm, another strikes from a different direction.

In such times, the inclination may be to look for a new strategy; a new way forward and out.  Then again, sometimes something old can be the source of something new.

Lent is that something old that can lead to something new.  When you participate in something that has been around for thousands of years, it anchors you.  It reminds you that your current circumstance has a context.  It says to you that there is always a next chapter.

Lent begins the day after Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday or Marti Gras or Carnival.  The word “carnival” literally means “farewell to meat” and “shrove” means to obtain absolution through confession.  Both of those sentiments set up the season of Lent because Lent is traditionally a time of austerity when one performs penance by giving up “luxuries” like meat and fat from one’s diet.  Consequently, “Fat Tuesday” is the time when things that cannot be eaten during Lent are festively consumed in pancakes and other recipes that use fat and oil.

Lent became a formalized season of the church year in the fourth century.  It was and still is for many Christians, a six-week period of fasting in preparation for Easter.  Fasting has even more ancient roots in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, but the designation of these weeks as Lent began several hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection.

Fasting takes many forms.  There are those who are traditional and eat only one meal a day during Lent.  Then there are those who eat only one meal a day on Wednesdays and Fridays.  In modern times, fasting has more often taken the form of relinquishing some important part of your daily routine.  

The goal of any type of fasting is to re-establish the centrality of God in one’s life; to “give up” something you rely on or look forward to that isn’t God.

Lent is 40 days long and does not include Sundays (each of which is to be seen as a “mini-Easter”).  The 40 days is modeled on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness following his baptism during which he was tempted to forego his ministry but instead solidified his identity as the Son of God.

I encourage you to connect with the Season of Lent this year.  I hope you will appreciate its history and take the initiative to make this time of spiritual renewal your own.  It needn’t be the solemn time that it traditionally has been, but it should be a time of re-centering yourself in your faith.  

Lent has an important place in the chaos of our lives and our world.  It is an invitation to slow down long enough to remember that God is with us even through the hardest of times—the crucifixion times in our lives—with the promise of healing and new life.

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic