I have no real roots in Lent.
My childhood evangelical church didn’t celebrate it. My Catholic grandmother did, but I just chalked it up to the other stuff she practiced that I didn’t understand, like wearing long underwear in July. (“I’m cold,” she’d tell us on an 85-degree day.)
Yet in college, amidst papers and exams, boyfriends good and bad, roommate drama and switching majors again, I stumbled into an Anglican church mid-Lent.
“It’s sad in here,” I told a friend.
“Seriously,” she said, looking around at the somber colors as the worship band played another verse of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.”
“I’m not coming back,” she said. “I want church to make me feel better about life.”
“I love this,” I said. “I’m coming back next week.” And I did. For years.
I’d just broken up with a boyfriend I really liked (nice guy, wrong fit). My roommates and I were starting a college Heifer International chapter to help alleviate poverty in struggling countries. I was taking a class called “Third World Issues” where we spent weeks studying the Rwandan Genocide.
For the first time I was coming face to face with the fact that the world is a bit of a mess, and I was sad. Not despairing or depressed but sad. Heavy in heart.
When I stepped into that Anglican church I heard its pastors proclaim that Jesus understood my sadness. That it didn’t scare him. That he had suffered for me and would suffer with me. That he suffered for and with the world.
That church didn’t just have to be a place where I wore a plastered smile. It could be a place where I wept, too.
Slowly I learned from the school of Lent.
The school begins on Ash Wednesday each year, when pastors smear ashes–burnt palm fronds mixed with fragrant oil–on the foreheads of their congregants to remind them that they came from the dust and will one day return to it.
Lent is 40 days because Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days. The 40 days lead up to the celebration of Easter – the greatest feast day in the church year.
Lent is one of the ways we participate in waiting with Jesus as his disciples did in Matthew 26:
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Of course, they fell asleep. Often we do, too.
Lent can help wake us up to the presence of Jesus, to the sufferings of the world, to the call of God to be awake and alert, clear-headed and ready for action.
Ash Wednesday is next week, March 1. Will you join its school of discipleship?
The school of Lent encourages us to give something up for 40 days, not so we can boast about how holy we are, but so that we create space for God to work.
The twinges in our bellies or our minds turn us toward him, reminders as they are of our humanity, our creatureliness, our weakness. Our struggle to go a day without chocolate, never mind an hour without sin.
The school of Lent reminds us to remember Jesus on his way to the cross, to meditate on the depth of love that sent him there for us, for our neighbor, and for the world.
The school of Lent helps us process our own pain and suffering, and that of the world, through the lens of a God who knows suffering and ministers to us in our pain.
I hate Lent. It’s hard. It’s sad. I’m a much bigger fan of easy and fast and happy than I am of hard and sad.
(Daryl says I’m Tigger, which is pretty true. The only ministry job I’ve ever resigned from was my position as a hospice chaplain because I AM TOO HAPPY FOR HOSPICE.)
(Plus, if I’m Tigger he’s totally Eeyore. But I digress).
So I hate Lent. I’d really rather skip it entirely.
But here’s the thing: I need Lent. Every year, again, I need to remember my sin before God. Confess it.
Every year, again, I need to give something up for forty long days so that I can feel my utter dependence on him. So my sugar cravings or longing for caffeine or vanity or inability to sit in silence for more than a moment can turn me again and again to prayer.
I need to remember that Jesus died. That his disciples thought it was all over. That the sun grew dark, the earth trembled, and for three days the universe mourned.
Easter is coming, but first: Lent.
Next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, find a church offering ashes if you can. Stand before a pastor and feel the weight of your sin, and the heaviness of the start of another 40 days of fasting, prayer, repentance, and grace.
Let them remind you of the love of God for you and for the world.
Will you join me this Lent?
Our church offers ashes all day starting at 7am. I’d love to tell you more about why I hate Lent, why I need it, and why we do it together as a church.
Happy Lent, my friends.