A Guide for Lent

This is an excerpt from ‘TIME FOR GOD: An Introduction to Living the Christian Year’, a resource written by one of our pastors, Michael Carlson. We pray this encourages you to encounter Jesus afresh as together we look towards Easter.

LENT season

(February 10 – March 26)

 

 Important Dates

 

February 10 [Ash Wednesday]

March 20-26 [Holy Week]

March 20 [Palm Sunday]

March 24 [Maundy Thursday]

March 25 [Good Friday]

March 26 [Holy/Silent Saturday]

 

Dust and Ashes

 

Besides Christmas and Easter, Lent is probably the most widely known part of the church calendar. What are you giving up for Lent? isn’t an uncommon question to hear during this season – even for those who consider themselves only nominally religious. Lent kicks off with Ash Wednesday and (depending upon your tradition) continues all the way through Holy Week.

 

Up to this point, we’ve been celebrating Jesus as the light of the world. We prepared our hearts at Advent, marveled at the incarnation during Christmas, and enjoyed both discovering and displaying Christ during Epiphany. But with the season of Lent comes a slight shift in tone. As the gospel of John tells us, Jesus came as the light of the world and “though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him… his own did not receive him” (1:10-11). As Jesus’ followers grew in number, so did his enemies, especially among the religious leaders of his day. Jesus’ message of God’s coming Kingdom and his central place within it, corroborated by his miracles, felt too threatening to the establishment. Arguments ensued, tensions rose, plans to kill Jesus were made. Lent leads us to the cross. It reminds us that in order for us to receive eternal life, Jesus had to endure excruciating death. Before celebrating Easter, we must first pass through Good Friday.

 

There are four special days worth mentioning. Palm Sunday is the Sunday directly preceding Easter and kicks off Holy Week. It commemorates the scene where Jesus entered Jerusalem like a king, riding on a donkey. Its label derives from the palm branches used by those who were cheering him upon his arrival. Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. It’s interesting to note that when Jesus wanted his disciples to remember him, he didn’t give them a lecture, he gave them a meal. He also washed their feet. Good Friday, of course, commemorates the day when Jesus was executed on a Roman cross. As we’ll see when we get to Easter, this humiliating and excruciating death would have looked like an utter defeat to everyone around. But for those of us on this side of Easter, we know it was actually the means by which God accomplished cosmic victory. It was the supreme act of self-giving love with God as the giver and us as the recipients. Good Friday of course leads to Holy or Silent Saturday, which commemorates the silent day between Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

So how do we inhabit Lent? By remembering two things: our frailty and our failings. First, our frailty. As the Psalmist prays, “You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust you mortals’” (90:3), Lent reminds us of the inevitability of death. It reminds us that the source of life lies outside of ourselves (opposed to some popular spiritualities today). It reminds us that we are not the Creator, we are the creatures. We are utterly and completely dependent upon God. Therefore, Lent invites us into a posture of humility.

 

Lent also reminds us of our failings. The gospel story leads us to the cross not simply because we are weak and frail, but because we are rebels. The sin and evil that Jesus defeated on cavalry is not simply an external reality – it lives within us. Lent reminds us of our moral culpability, the rebellion that lives in each of our hearts. In the Old Testament, ashes were often a sign of repentance, which is why some Christians will begin Lent (on Ash Wednesday) by using ashes to mark a cross on their forehead. Lent invites us to walk with Jesus to the cross, remembering that it’s precisely because of our sin that he gave his life. It invites us into a healthy posture of repentance and confession.

 

For many, all this talk of dust and ashes may seem a bit too gloomy. But recognizing our frailty and failings is not only massively freeing, it’s also incredibly important for understanding the gospel. It’s freeing because it means we can stop pretending that we have it all together, because let’s be honest – we don’t. It’s important for understanding the gospel because the very reason God sent Jesus was to rescue us from our sorry state. The world doesn’t need good advice. It needs good news! It needs to know that despite our weak and rebellious hearts, God’s love came down and accomplished victory over everything that distorts and destroys. Embracing the heart of Lent (i.e. recognizing our frailty and failings) enables us to understand and experience the depth and breadth of God’s love for us, which is ultimately what the cross of Christ reveals.

 

Sacred Practices

 

During this season, consider adopting a new practice or habit that in some way embodies the heart of Lent. Feel free to choose from this list of suggested practices, or come up with one on your own!

 

  • Fast – While watching the morning news a couple years ago, there was one particular segment that caught my attention. The topic was widespread smart-phone addiction. The anchor was advocating that people should take some time to “detox” from their phones. While nothing explicitly spiritual was said, what the news anchor inherently sensed is that it’s healthy to take time going without something good in order to become someone better. Sadly, many Christians have forgotten that God’s people have been doing this for thousands of years! Remember, not only did Jesus himself fast (Matthew 4:2), but he expected his disciples to fast as well (Matthew 9:14-17). And after he was gone, they did (Acts 13:1-3)! This is not to say that fasting is a requirement for following Jesus, but it should be normal. And Lent is a great time to do it. In her book Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites, Lynne Baab defines Christian fasting as, “the voluntary denial of something for a specific period of time for a spiritual purpose.” Many people are turned off by fasting because it seems too ascetic, too restricting. But it’s actually designed to free us up to create space for God. The point of fasting during Lent is to expose our dependence on temporal things and rediscover our utter dependence upon God. Marjorie Holmes writes, “In a more tangible, visceral way than any other spiritual disciplines, fasting reveals our excessive attachments and the assumptions that lie behind them…. Fasting brings us face to face with how we put the material world ahead of its spiritual Source.” This is why many people choose to fast. If you’re interested in doing it, here’s a list of potential things you could give up for Lent (adapted from Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross):
    • Eating desserts and sweets
    • Buying expensive cups of coffee
    • Drinking alcoholic beverages
    • Purchasing books
    • Watching television
    • Reading books and magazines
    • Wearing colorful jewelry or using makeup
    • Listening to music or watching movies
    • Eating overpackaged, overprocessed foods
    • Shopping
    • Using Facebook
  • Observe one of the special days during Holy Week – If your church doesn’t do anything special for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Holy Saturday (also called Silent Saturday), consider attending another church service during one of these days. Or consider doing something like participating in a Christian Seder for Maundy Thursday or committing to silence on Silent Saturday (though you might want to run that by anyone you happen to live with first).

 

Suggested Prayer Prompt

 

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24).

 

Suggested Scripture Reading

 

2/10 – Matthew 21:1-11

2/11 – Matthew 21:12-22

2/12 – Matthew 21:23-27

2/13 – Matthew 21:28-46

2/14 – Matthew 22:1-14

2/15 – Matthew 22:15-22

2/16 – Matthew 22:23-46

2/17 – Matthew 23:1-12

2/18 – Matthew 23:13-26

2/19 – Matthew 23:27-39

2/20 – Matthew 24:1-35

2/21 – Matthew 24:36-51

2/22 – Matthew 25:1-13

2/23 – Matthew 25:14-30

2/24 – Matthew 25:31-46

2/25 – Matthew 26:1-13

2/26 – Matthew 26:14-30

2/27 – Matthew 26:31-35

2/28 – Matthew 26:36-46

2/29 – Matthew 26:47-56

3/1 – Matthew 26:57-68

3/2 – Matthew 26:69-75

3/3 – Matthew 27:1-10

3/4 – Matthew 27:11-26

3/5 – Matthew 27:27-44

3/6 – Matthew 27:45-56

3/7 – Matthew 27:57-66

3/8 – John 12:1-11

3/9 – John 12:12-36

3/10 – John 12:37-50

3/11 – John 13:1-17

3/12 – John 13:18-38

3/13 – John 14:1-14

3/14 – John 14:15-31

3/15 – John 15:1-17

3/16 – John 15:18-25

3/17 – John 15:26 – 16:15

3/18 – John 16:16-33

3/19 – John 17:1-19

3/20 – John 17:20-26

3/21 – John 18:1-14

3/22 – John 18:15-27

3/23 – John 18:28-40

3/24 – John 19:1-16

3/25 – John 19:17-27

3/26 – John 19:28-42

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