Recently I encountered two curious people and engaged them in conversation about Lent (one was a non-UM pastor and the other a faithful member of a UM church). The conversation was so similar between the two I combined the questions and my responses into one and am sharing the compilation with you. I share this with you just in case you had similar thoughts and questions about Lent.
Pastor Rob: Lent begins this week!
Curious: What is Lent?
Pastor Rob: It is a 40-day time of preparation.
Curious: What are we preparing for? Easter?
Pastor Rob: Sort of.
I know it might sound morbid, but we prepare for death and new life during Lent.
We prepare to “die” to our old ways of living as we find “new life” in Christ. The earliest Christians would prepare for their new life found at their baptism by preparing for the season of Lent with Easter as their baptism day (back then baptisms happened only once a year on Easter). Additionally, in Lent we prepare to face our own mortality. We start on Ash Wednesday remembering that we came from dust and dust we shall return. We focus on our mortality because Jesus prepared to face his own death. At the same time, in Lent we also prepare with anticipation for new life found in the resurrection promise of Easter.
Curious: I thought Lent meant you just couldn’t eat meat on Fridays, and you had to give up something that is bad for you.
Pastor Rob: Yes, people do give up lots of different stuff for Lent. That comes from Jesus’ instruction in Matthew (and other long-standing teachings in the Bible) about fasting. One point of fasting is to focus our attention on God, not on what we give up. The practice of giving up something in Lent can be distracting for some. Lots of people focus on their deprivation. That’s why I encourage people to add something in Lent. For example, if you give up binge watching TV, just watch 1 hour of TV and read 1 chapter of the Bible in place of the other programs you would otherwise watch. Or if you give up chocolate instead of simply not eating chocolate, take the occasion every time you have a craving as a chance to research where chocolate comes from and what might be the most ethical and moral way to get chocolate so that when Lent is over you would be empowered to eat chocolate that is more moral and as such the kingdom comes a little bit closer by eating chocolate. Some people give up a meal a day and give the money saved to the poor. Others add prayer while they brush their teeth. The possibilities are endless to add a spiritual practice or discipline as way to be open to the new life God is preparing for you. Our Lenten sermon series and accompanying book study called The Walk, explores five core practices that all Christians are called to do, that can prepare us well for our daily walk with Jesus.
(Also, Lent is 47 days long, you are not supposed to fast on Sundays in Lent – as each Sunday is a little Easter and is cause for celebration).
Curious: That makes more sense. I could do something like that. I know that a lot of people do extra Bible studies or go to church on Wednesday nights in Lent. What is that about?
Pastor Rob: That’s about the preparations mentioned earlier. We prepare ourselves to receive the gift of new life. This means dying to sin and our old ways that keep us from God. Many people find focusing on Bible study or worship for 6 weeks is one way to help kickstart their passion for a closer relationship with Jesus, by joining in that communal spiritual practice. Again, the book The Walk is a very accessible guide to 5 essential practices of the Christian faith. Tuning in each Sunday in Lent is a great way to get started or to build upon an existing foundation of practices.
Curious: What are you giving up for Lent?
Pastor Rob: I am going to fast one day a week as well add the Prayer of Examen to my nightly prayers.
Curious: That’s right! Add something. Thanks for telling me about Lent! I always had questions but never knew who to ask.
This Lent, at UMCG we have an entire calendar filled with small, incremental ways you can practice Lent and grow in your walk. Check it out here.
Blessings on the Journey,