Growing up, the main thing I remember about Lent was my dad gave up eating lots of chocolate, but started eating a lot of bread. I generally thought of it as a not-so-fun time of year where you give something up you like. Since then, I’ve learned there is a bit more to it and Lent is actually a chance to deepen our spirituality as we become more in tune with the central mystery of the Christian faith- the passion and resurrection.

Brief History of Lent

In the early church, Lent served as a time of self-examination for new converts to the faith. As the church grew, the tradition expanded to a more formalized, 40 day season of repentance for the whole church. After the Reformation, the church often has been suspicious of rituals, traditions, and formal calendars for creating a dead, faith when we have been given access to the grace through faith.

In recent years, there has been a “reawakening” to some of the traditional practices from church history in search of a deeper, historical expression of the Christian faith. Rather than seeing traditions as dead rituals or religious superstitions, tradition can be a source of deepening our walk with Christ, and our community in Christ.

Significance of Lent

This season of 40 days is a time to pause and reflect on our lives as we prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection. Following the discipline of the church calendar can help us to become more aware of what Christ is doing in our hearts and all around us as we prepare for a more authentic, meaningful celebration of Easter. In our quick fix-instant gratification culture, it is easy to not be very reflective on the state of our souls and treat the cross and resurrection as a magic ticket to heaven. We are often guilty of wanting the benefits of Christ without being willing to take on the way of Jesus. One missionary says, “a superficial understanding of the events and pattern of Christ’s death only leads to a shallow and impotent experience of our new life in Christ.”

Throughout the gospels, the disciples learned this lesson the hard way. It was difficult for them to grasp that Jesus’ Kingdom would come through suffering and death rather than triumph and domination. Just after Jesus declared that He would build the church on Peter’s declaration of faith, Jesus rebuked Peter as Satan for thinking that His Kingdom would come without suffering and death. Jesus’ way to the cross teaches us about self-giving love in a way that we often do not want to understand. At the end of his life, Peter got this. He said, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (I Peter 2:21)

Paul got this idea too. Maturity in Christ for him was not the absence of problems, but participating in the power of the resurrection of Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. He wrote to the church of Galatians that, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). For Paul, a living faith in Christ modeled the self-giving love of Christ for others. He wrote to the Corinthians that the church has been given the mind of Christ, and to the Philippians that we have been united to Christ, called to take on His way of life.

Whacha goin’ do?

Lent is an annual opportunity for us to take a fresh look into the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the world. It has the potential to deepen our devotion to Christ by renewing our commitment to follow the way of the cross, and opens us to a greater experience to the life and love of Christ in the Holy Spirit. Maybe we take this time to reflect on the state of our own soul- of our relationship to Christ, maybe this is a time of just fixing our eyes on Christ and off of ourselves, maybe this is a time to reflect on how we are contributing to and influencing the lives of those around us?

May we as individuals and a community come to a greater intimacy with Christ during this this season of year. May we “take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me” so that we might more deeply participate in His purposes.

As St. Francis once said that we would embrace a “love for him, who deigned to die for love of my love.”