The Meaning of Lent

What is Lent? we may ask. Every year as we enter into this season, we need to look at it afresh. It’s a season of profound healing to many; a season filled with echoes of forgiveness. Lent is the penitential season of the Church. Lent is the purple of royalty. Lent is the desert before the promised land of the Resurrection. Lent is the wilderness prison for Israel and simultaneously the way out of the wilderness. Lent teaches of the incurable disease of sin and yet the cure for sin. Lent is the long wait Jacob endured for Rachel. Lent is the “Thus saith the Lord,” when the devil whispers, “Who said ye shall be like God?” Lent is the sacrifices of incomplete priests and the exile of a perfect man so that we might be set free. Lent is the love of injustice poured on a just Man. Lent is fasting with hope. Lent is giving up idols and turning to the true icon of God, Jesus Christ. Lent is finding joy in the midst of suffering. Lent is loving without expecting to be loved. Lent is death. Lent is death to us. Lent is repenting and being forgiven. Lent is exploring your weakness. Lent is judging yourself first. Lent is John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord with locusts for the unjust and honey for the just.

Lent is a pattern for redemption. Lent is God moving his people from desert to city, from ruin to a new civilization. Lent is obedience through sacrifice, love through death.

And in this season, we are called to do life together in these next 40 days not because we wish to earn Christ’s sacrifice but because Christ’s sacrifice took away our ability to earn him. If Jesus had not died, we would still be 2,000 years later seeking to earn the way to the Father. But we cannot earn what has been earned for us. If fasting or ashes or any such thing made us acceptable, Lent would be a wasteful experience. Lent is fruitful for us because Jesus has been fruitful and multiplied in his death.

Lent is active. Are we invested in destroying evil or being deceived by evil? Killing sin so that sin does not kill us? In actively seeking Jesus or sitting passively waiting for a mystical experience? In waiting to serve or seeking to serve? Pursuing righteousness or waiting for righteousness to bump into you? Lent is actively pursuing the relief of others. Lent is giving up childish ways and embracing the ways of Calvary.

Lent is contemplative. How often have we meditated on the truth that God is for us because of the cross? He is for us. Like a father is for his child; like a mother who praises her daughter; like a satisfied teacher with his student; yes, in those ways, but so much more. He is for us even though it cost his life; he is for us even though it would shake the very universe he created. He is for us even though we were not for him: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Contemplate the God-is-with-us theme of Lent. For God so loved the world that he sent his son to be for us.

Why Lent? Because Lent takes away our arrogance. It instills a sense of need. It builds a habit of dependence. It prepares our wounds to be healed by Another. Lent is the power of Another to do what we cannot do for ourselves. We need Lent because without it Christ is no king, we are no people, and life is no gift. We all must take up our cross and follow the Christ of the cross. In Him we move, and live and have our being.



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