To begin with, what is Lent? It is an old English word describing the lengthening of days in the springtime. The signs of change from winter to spring call attention to what is coming—new life! In the same way Lent is a season of preparation and change in us that points to what is coming—Easter!
Why should we prepare for Easter? As sure as chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs will fill the shelves in the grocery store Easter will arrive, right? Easter will come and go on the calendar but I don’t think that any of us have sufficient awe and wonder regarding the resurrection. Jesus was dead and come back to life, making a way for you and me to follow him.
When writing about the resurrection Bishop N.T. Wright declares, “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” Jesus invites us into a whole new way of living and being in the world in light of his overthrow of the powers of death and victory over everything that holds captive. We are called to prepare our lives for a mysteriously wonderful world we have never even fully seen.
It is worth asking, how do we respond to the invitation into the resurrection life of Jesus? The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians about his desire to follow and identify with Jesus saying, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)
To identify with Christ in that way we have to recognize that we are dead in our old ways and our best efforts are dust in comparison to the way of Jesus. The Ash Wednesday message is true—we are made from dust and we will return to dust. And still God invites us into the life of Christ and enlivens us with the Holy Spirit.
Can we ever really change? The invitation of the Holy Spirit to be transformed is an invitation to engage in the habits and practices that we see Jesus do in the Gospels. Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines, “We can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.” To have faith in Jesus is to believe that the way he lived is the pattern in which we can and must follow.
He fasted for forty days in the desert, took time away to pray to God the Father, showed compassion to those who were sick and poor, and submitted himself to death on the cross for the love of us. In his life, death, and resurrection he has caused the Kingdom of God to break into our own world.
To participate in this coming Kingdom we must intentionally name and lay aside the ways of this world and take up the ways of Jesus. The invitation to a Holy Lent at the beginning of the Ash Wednesday liturgy calls us to three of Jesus’ specific practices.
First, we fast. Fasting is strange in our culture of excess. Why would anyone intentionally limit themselves? Fasting is an eye-opening response to God that allows us to join him in his sorrow over the state of the world and nurture a reliance on his infinite resource. Christians traditionally fast food on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and occasionally other days during Lent. They may also choose to abstain from foods and drinks or activities in order to redirect their desire to God.
Second, we pray. When you give up something during Lent it is always recommended that you add something in its place. I suggest that when you fast, pray. When you give up social media, pray. When you turn off the TV, pray. During his earthly ministry we see that prayer was the heart of Jesus’ relationship with God and we are invited into that same loving relationship. We only need to show up.
Third, we give. Jesus always showed compassion to those in need not only seeing lost souls but broken bodies and empty bellies as well. In this season we are called to give to the poor. It is part of grieving the distance between the world as it is and the coming Kingdom of God. And it is an invitation to all to participate in the abundance of the Kingdom of God made visible in the resurrection.
Begin Lent well today! The spiritual disciplines of Lent are not meant to showcase your strengths. Instead they shine a light on your weaknesses and reinforce our dependency on Jesus. Lent is meant bring us to Easter morning living more like Jesus and filled with awe over his resurrection that marks the coming Kingdom of God .