Why Lent? Why, every year, must we spend 40 days thinking about things like sin and suffering and repentance and death and renewal? Why can’t we do that on our own when we’re in the mood; when we have time; when experiences around us force us to confront the realities of sin and death? Why do we have to force ourselves into dealing with these thoughts when they don’t square with our feelings?
Some have wondered aloud about these things. Others have said, “I hate Lent, just give me Easter?” Maybe that is why so much of U. S. Christianity avoids Lent. And other than Mardi Gras, most of the U.S. knows nothing of Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is Feb. 13 this year, and ends with Easter Sunday Vespers Services at 6 p.m. March 31.
Frankly, no one has to observe Lent. The Evangelical Catholic Church (which includes Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Angelical/Episcopalian churches) is not in the business of establishing a whole bunch of new rules and regulations that will bind the conscience of her people and hold them captive. But the Church, as part of her ministry, does wish to give people an opportunity to remember Jesus, his life, his love, his teachings, his signs and deeds, his misery, his suffering, his rejection, his God-awful death and his wholly unexpected resurrection. The most meaningful and orderly way the Church has found to teach these things is to establish the seasons of the Church’s Year of Grace — each of which is devoted to remembering a particular aspect of Christ’s life and teaching.
And so in Advent, we await the coming of the promised messiah. At Christmas, we behold the gift of salvation wrapped in flesh and blood as Bethlehem’s child. In Epiphany, the wrappings of the Christmas gift are off, and we behold the gift at work — teaching, preaching, healing, making whole. At Easter time, the great resurrection promise takes shape in the Risen Christ — a preliminary resurrection to the one he promises each of us by baptism and faith. At Pentecost, we are inheritors of revealed teaching and the community of faith brought about by the teaching through the indwelling of the spirit.
Then there is Lent — those 40 days that bring us to the foot of the cross, where we are confronted with the darkest realities of our existence: temptation, sin, betrayal, suffering and death. There at the foot of the cross, we remember how God did and still does work out our ultimate rescue in Christ.
It’s true, you can ignore The Church’s call to Lent and Lenten renewal. There’s no law that says we have to think about these things at this time of the year. Yet I find myself encouraging you to deliberately use this Lent as an opportunity to remember and to be renewed in mind and spirit. Believe me, it will make your Easter more meaningful and more joyful! A blessed Lent!
The Reverend John-Paul Meyer is interim pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.