Lent is almost here, friends, and we are excited at the Mission Cincinnati to journey through this season together. If you come from a tradition that does not follow the Christian Calendar, you may be wondering what Lent is all about.
Well, in the simplest terms, Lent is the 40-day period prior to Easter that starts with Ash Wednesday. It is a time of devotion and discipline as we prepare our hearts for the great celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday. (By the way, the Sundays in Lent are not counted in this 40-day penitential period since Sundays are always feast days.) As we journey through this 40-day period together, we keep a double focus.
On one hand, during Lent, we seriously consider sin and our fallen human condition. If we are truthful with ourselves, during this season of Lent, we say with the apostle Paul “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). During Lent, we admit that we are sinful individuals – that we continually wrestle with pride, self-centeredness, hatred, a need to be in control, envy, prejudice, and many other vices.
On the other hand, we also reflect on the Christian hope throughout the entire season of Lent. Though we are sinful, Christ so loved the world that He died for us while we were still sinners and then He was raised from the dead, opening up the possibility for those who believe to be reconciled with Himself.
Not only that, but he opened up the possibility of healing, transformation into Christlikeness, and abundant life through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. So, in Lent, we are always looking forward to the triumph of Easter Day even as we grapple with the our fallen conditions.
So while Advent (the Season before Christmas) can be said to be about “God with us”, Lent (the Season before Easter) can be said to be about “God for us”. As Greg Pennoyer says,
“If Advent/Christmas is a revelation of God’s presence with us, then Lent/Easter is a revelation of God’s desire to use all of life for our wholeness and our healing – the revelation that he will pull life from death. . . . Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life – for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness. Lent and Easter remind us that even in death there can be found resurrection.” (Pennoyer, “God for Us”, x)
So with this great truth in mind, we enter into this season of Lent with a firm sense of God’s love for us, as well as a desire to engage practices that will open us up to God’s healing, liberation, and transformation.
And so friends, since the earliest of times, it has been typical in the season of Lent to take on some new rhythm of prayer, self-examination, confession, fasting, and giving/generosity. We give up certain habits and take on other habits so that we might we might become more like Christ and so that we might grow closer in our relationship with Him.
Some of you may be wondering, however, “how do we do this?” So, with this question in mind, I have compiled a list of suggested practices that you might take on during this season. You can find it below.
Before you check out this list, however, let me provide the following caution. Please do not feel as if you should do all of these. Especially if you are new to Lent, take on one or two new practices and put your energy into those.
Remember that the point of these practices is not to check off as may boxes as possible but to be self-reflective, to draw closer to Christ, and to open yourself up to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. So consider which practices will help you do this the best in this season. And if you are unfamiliar with these practices, consider coming to Oasis on Wednesday nights, where we will engage in some of them throughout the season. Also seek me out for guidance.
Practices for Lent - Some Online Resources
Daily Lenten Devotionals – Take on a daily Lenten devotional. There are many out there, but here are two that I suggest for you:
· An American Lent– Given our church’s context, I believe this would be a great devotional for us as a church to engage this season. Written by priests in our denomination, as well as others, this devotional will lead us through a process of understanding the 400 years of slavery, oppression, and racism that have existed in our country and will invite us into a process of reflection and prayer.
· Center for Christianity, Culture and Arts (Biola) Lenten Project -- This beautiful online devotional, which is newly re-imagined each year, takes you through Lent with beautiful art, music, and reflection on Scripture.
Prayer– Consider taking on practices of daily prayer, examen, or lectio divina during this season. You can find explanations of these practices at The Vine and the Way, my spiritual formation blog, as well as find links out to prayer resources.
Fasting and Feasting– Consider taking on rhythms of fasting and feasting during the Season. Here are three articles to help you understand what fasting is all about: “Fasting for Lent” and “Fasting and Feasting for Lent” and How to Fast for Lent. Also, you may consider fasting from a habit, a habit that in itself may not be bad, but seems to be increasingly taking you away from “loving God and loving neighbor”, a habit that is becoming a bit of an idol, is controlling you rather than you controlling it. (i.e., many people give up social media for Lent.)
Reading Scripture– Take on a Scripture reading plan or join a Bible study for this Season. If you are a woman, consider joining Katie Mosley’s Women’s Bible Study this Lent. As another option, Anne Rothaas also suggests this Bible study on Job that you can do on your own. If you would like to wrestle more with some of the content of Anne’s sermon from a couple of weeks ago, this could be a good study for you.