I have grown up in the church my whole life. As far back as I can remember I have memories of going to church services, attending Vacation Bible School, participating in the Awana program and everything in between. However, in all my years of church the one thing of which I have no recollection is any discussion or acknowledgement of Lent.
The first time I can remember having some encounter with Lent was in college. I walked into our dorm after a long day of trekking all over campus and I saw a few friends gathered together in the lobby. I went over to say hi and noticed that two of my friends had something on their foreheads. I then proceeded to point it out to them as though they had no idea something was on their faces. They both looked at each other and then at me. They paused with this look of confusion that communicated to me, “Bryan…are you an idiot?” Once I saw the look on their faces I knew that I had just stepped in it, but had no idea what I stepped in. They could tell that I was clueless so began to inform me that it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
I was incredibly embarrassed. Mostly because they knew that I was a professing Christ follower and this was something of which I should have been aware. In an effort to minimize my embarrassment, I played it off like I knew what they were talking about and that the start of Lent had merely slipped my mind. The truth was, I had no idea. I then found some random reason to leave the conversation and quickly excused myself.
Now, you might think that after that awkward encounter I would have taken some time to investigate the meaning and practice of Lent. However…I did not. It has been 10 years since that interaction and only now am I taking to time to investigate Lent. The first thing that I’ve learned…. I am already a week behind.
Lent starts 40 days before Easter (not including Sundays) on Ash Wednesday. This year it started last Wednesday, March 9th. It is a season characterized by fasting. The number 40 is connected to many events in scripture, but especially the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness being tempted by Satan while preparing for his earthly ministry (Matthew 4v1-11).
For the Christian, just as Advent is a season to prepare ourselves for Christmas, Lent is a season in which we prepare ourselves for Easter. In the Protestant tradition in which I grew up, we acknowledged Palm Sunday and then the following week held a Good Friday Service followed by a Sunday Easter Celebration. And before you knew it, Easter was gone just as quickly as it came. I am discovering that Lent is an intentional time to engage in self-examination, repentance and to posture ourselves in such a way to reminder ourselves how desperately we need God. It is part of the rhythm of the church year which tells God’s story of redemption. Lent is one way we engage with and remind ourselves of that story.
Now, I have never observed Lent and have barely given lip service to it. It was never a part of my upbringing in the faith. And even though I am a week behind, this year I am going to give it a go. I am going to engage with this ancient practice in hopes of reconnecting with and gaining a new perspective on the hinge of our faith, the crucifixion & resurrection of Jesus.
Even if you are like me and are a week behind, this is an invitation to engage with the Lent season and share your thoughts and experiences as I will share mine over these next five weeks.
So, what does Lent mean to you? How do you engage with Lent? Are you fasting? If so, in what way?