It’s my favorite time of year, although my allergies would tend to disagree. The snow-covered earth becomes muddy as the snow melts and once dormant vegetation springs to life. The muted colors of a gloomy winter slowly give way to the vibrant palette of spring colors. And, as we observe the change in seasons, the church also observes a change in seasons.
As Advent precedes Christmas, so Lent precedes Easter. Lent is historically observed by the church as a season of repentance for 40 days culminating in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Throughout its history, the church has observed a vast number of traditions over the 40 days of Lent. A few of the more common lenten disciplines include reading lenten devotionals, volunteering time or finances, and fasting of some sort. For many, Lent is a somber season of reflection upon our sin which sent Jesus to the cross.
So, what does Lent mean to you?
In Matthew chapter six, we find Jesus, just having finished the Sermon on the Mount, engaging his disciples with a warning regarding good works.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).” Jesus proceeds to instruct his disciples to give to those in need without the fanfare and trumpets employed by those seeking to be praised for such deeds. He teaches them to pray, not a prayer to show off to others, but a prayer of a child to their gracious and merciful Heavenly Father. And, towards the end of this chapter, Jesus directs his disciples to a different approach to fasting.
“…and when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)”
With all this in mind, how are you lenting?
If our Old Adam has any say in it, it wants to do just that and make lent into a verb. Lent in the way of our sinful flesh, is nothing more than a season to prove to God and others beyond a shadow of a doubt just how heartily sorry and sincerely repentant we are for our sins. Our sinful nature wants to paint lent with gloomy strokes of naval gazing.
Our sinful nature wants to grab hold of the gifts of lent and turn them into a burden. Our Old Adam has a special talent for taking the gifts of repentance and making them about himself. The focus turns from Christ and his work for us to an inward introspection to make sure we’re on track with our Lenten resolutions. In essence, our Old Adam wishes nothing more than to make lent all about us.
If lent is not about what we do for God, what is Lent about?
Jesus, specifically and most importantly Jesus for you. Lent is all about Jesus doing everything for us. Lent is about God making good on all his promises in Jesus stemming from the first given to Adam and Eve that, “I will put enmity between you and woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).”
Martin Luther writes on this topic of Lenten practices, “We should not look to ourselves but to the word and promise of God, clinging to it by faith.” Lent is about clinging to the word (Jesus) and promise of God by faith, and even this faith is given to us as a gift apart from our works! Faith clings to the promises given as God’s word and name are placed upon us in the waters of Holy Baptism.
While Lent is a season of repentance, it is at the same time a happy and joyful season! We are free to fast, give freely to our neighbor, and serve others knowing that our salvation is not on the line. Our forgiveness is freely given apart from our works or intentions. Our repentance is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. We are free to enjoy Lent without a gloomy cloud hanging over our heads.
So, happy Lent! Remember as you wash your face and go about your good works for your neighbor that your head has been anointed with the waters of baptism. Lent means that we do not have to look to ourselves but can look to our neighbor in love as Christ has loved us. We can walk around with a smile on our face knowing that we have been dressed in a robe of righteousness that can never be snatched away.
Lent means that we have a Savior who wants to see to it that in this season and always we receive the blood-bought gifts and promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation won for us on Calvary. Happy Lent!