This article first appeared in the Marathon Mercury, February 2021.
The question has been posed, “Why, on earth, would we celebrate Lent this year when we’ve already given up so much?”
Why give up meat, or chocolate, or television when we’ve already given up connection, closeness, shared meals and travel. Why make the next five weeks even more unbearable when we’re clinging to the simple pleasures we have in order to survive?
That is a very good question. It also has me thinking about why Lent began in the first place, and how its origins might make the weeks leading up to Spring more bearable, instead of less.
Lent, the time of lengthening-days that leads us towards Easter, is made up of 40 days and five Sundays. For the early church it was a season where new members would commit themselves to study and reflection, preparing for Baptism at Easter. This ancient version of Lent reminds me more of an exam season than the somber affair we sometimes make it today. Exam time, held in anticipation of graduation, is certainly stressful but also a season when all your hard work comes to fruition. It is the last step before a new journey begins, a time we measure our growth and dream about what is next for us.
In Lent, we follow Jesus through a similar journey. Baptized, named and claimed by God as the Beloved, we follow Jesus through the height of his ministry and towards his final days in Jerusalem. We follow his story, listening attentively, knowing the culmination of his ministry is just a little ways away. We hold our breath in the temple as he overturns the tables, we nudge each other with knowing gazes as he tells his followers just what the Son of Man has come to do, and swallow discomfort as he approaches Golgotha on Good Friday. Beneath it all, the humming anticipation of Easter reminds us that this is not an ending, but a whole new beginning.
I wonder if you can capture that humming energy this Lent, following alongside Jesus as he teaches and travels through the countryside. You might find it helpful not to give-up something over this next month and a bit, but to take up a practice that can help you enter the story more fully.
You could read the book of Mark over the next five weeks, write a note of kindness for each day, or cook and deliver a meal for a friend once a week. You can probably come up with some marvellous ideas of things you can “take-up”, life-giving habits to accompany you through these weeks, practices to help you know Jesus’ way more fully.
I hope this year you can let yourself sink into the Lenten journey. Walking in the footsteps of many curious students who have come before you; following in the shadow of the Teacher, as he takes dusty country roads leading him closer to the Great Mystery of Easter. And, may you find some life-giving practices to enliven this story within you. Safe travels, friends.