Lent is upon us once again and it is good to stop for a moment irrespective of whether we’ve decided to do anything special over the period and reflect on its meaning. It is one of those occasions in the calendar when plenty of people with no particular faith decide to undertake what is essentially a religious activity. At a time when three in ten children have never heard about Jesus’ crucifixion it can provide a chance to share something of the nature of the Christian faith both through words and actions.
Canon J John has kindly provided a short piece on Lent and to finish I’ve given a few resources that I recommend to be used at this time. It’s not too late to make the most of Lent!
Why keep Lent?
Lent, the forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays), is a somewhat curious period in the Church’s calendar. Most things in the Church’s year are festivals and we happily talk about celebrating them. Lent is very different: it is a minor-key period which is never ‘celebrated’ but only ‘kept’. Some churches and Christians treat Lent very seriously, while others ignore it entirely.
Even among those who keep Lent, there is no agreement on how it should be kept. Many Christians try to give up something: for instance, chocolate, Facebook or television. It’s even become a period for us to try to break bad habits, almost as if Lent gives us another opportunity to retake those New Year’s resolutions!
Now what exactly is Lent about? One word used by those who observe Lent is ‘preparation’. Lent is about three preparations.
Lent is a preparation for Easter. Easter, with its message of Christ destroying sin and death through his death and resurrection, is the most exciting moment in the Church’s year. Yet we can undercut this note of victory by being so occupied that, amid the frantic busyness of our lives, we carelessly stumble upon Easter. Lent provides us with forty days’ build-up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that forces us to prayerfully ponder the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the best way to appreciate a sunrise is to be there in the darkness before dawn, so the only way to appreciate Easter is to have come to it through Lent. We as Christians are, of course, an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.
Secondly, Lent is a preparation for Existence. A fatal flaw in our culture today is that people do not know how to say ‘no’ to bad things. It is now almost a virtue to give in to every desire that comes upon us. Yet a great element in Christian morality is to be able to say no to wrong desires. Paul, in Titus chapter 2 verses 11 and 12, says this: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ Lent gives us the opportunity to practice resisting harmful and hurtful desires that will continue for life. Trivial as it may appear, a battle won over chocolate or coffee at Lent may help us win a war over lust, lying or loving shortly afterwards.
Finally, Lent is a preparation for Eternity. If you take Lent seriously, then these forty days can seem to be a long and often wearying season in which we never get our own way. Here, for a time, pleasures are put to one side and joys are postponed. But Lent doesn’t last. The darkness is broken by the joyful light of the glorious triumph of Easter Day. Here there is a splendid parallel with our lives. For many of us, much of our life seems to take place in what we might call ‘Lent mode’: things do not go as we hope, we do not get what we want and our joys are absent or at best short-lived. Yet, for the Christian, there is that wonderful and certain hope that however deep and hard the darkness is in our lives, it will ultimately be lifted and replaced by an indestructible joy. For those who love Christ, life’s long Lent will end, one day, in an eternal Easter in which death and sin are destroyed for ever.
Whether or not you keep Lent– and in what way you keep it – is your choice. But to keep Lent, thoughtfully and prayerfully, is to come into a rich and lasting inheritance. Be blessed this Lent and bless others!
J John is an internationally recognised Christian speaker and author. He has written over 50 books and spoken in 69 countries, teaching the Christian faith and addressing over 300,000 people in person each year. His series Just 10 (on the Ten Commandments) has now exceeded one million people in attendance.
One of the most exciting developments I’ve witnessed during Lent over the last few years is Christian organisations and churches looking at how we can be encouraged to draw upon Lent’s roots and turn it into a creative opportunity to do something meaningful that makes a difference in many ways. Below are two initiatives that I’ve used and recommend:
The Count Your Blessing app is back for its second year and is now available in regular and Collective (16-25ish) versions. It’s also available as a paper versions including one for children. We used this at home last year and found it worked really well as a family activity. Having it on your phone or tablet means you can do the daily readings, reflections and prayers on the go, which is very helpful. It’s challenging and thought-provoking and gives opportunities to respond in different ways too.
The team at 24-7 Prayer have been producing incredibly high quality podcasts for a few years now. Their Lent series this time round is entitled Anagnorisis, which means “the moment at which a character makes a critical discovery regarding their identity and true nature.” It will focus on the way individuals’ lives were changed when they encountered Jesus. These videos that last just a few minutes have regularly been used to start each day and if this year’s are anywhere near as powerful and moving as previous ones, they will be well worth following.
A couple of extras: If you want to really get stuck into Lent I also recommend the award winning 40 Acts which encourages 40 days of giving back, doing good and living generously. If you want something simple then I’m Not Busy is about as straightforward as possible, but also incredibly worthwhile by making a commitment to stop and do nothing for a few minutes each day.
All of this can be used to draw us closer in relationship to God during Lent and that’s what really counts.