The day after tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. If you don’t attend a liturgical church, you may be wondering what that even means. In fact, my coworkers at Reconciled World appointed me to blog today because when I mentioned Ash Wednesday was coming up, they all said, “What’s that?”
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter. In Church tradition, it is a time of repentance, of self-denial and of mourning for our sinfulness. It is a time to plead with the Lord to intervene in our brokenness.
No wonder it has become obscure—that just sounds like a drag. To tell you the truth, I hate and love Lent.
I hate Lent because, just like everyone else, I don’t like denying myself…well…anything. And I certainly don’t like thinking about what a lowlife I am. But I love Lent and have submitted to it for fifteen years now because 40 days of self-denial and repentance reveals my heart to me in a unique way, draws me closer to my Savior and makes the victory of Easter all the more brilliant.
David Maddalena writes on his wonderful website brightsadness.org, “In the Western churches (of the Protestant variety) we don’t participate in Lent, historically speaking. We are more comfortable with the joy and celebration of Easter than with the darkness that preceded it. But Lent is a chance to remember the dark before the dawn, the sin that Jesus took to the cross.”
Before I knew about Lent, Easter just snuck up on me every year. I was just on about normal life, when suddenly the Pastor was saying, “He is risen,” and we were all supposed to say, “He is risen indeed!” Then brunch, cheap chocolate eggs and back to normal life. Easter felt flat to me. But when I enter into the valley of Lent, Easter becomes a much anticipated and incredibly joyful mountaintop kind of day.
I think James 4:8-10 captures this whole Lent thing perfectly:
Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
During Lent this year we have an opportunity to examine ourselves and to repent of all the ways we fail to seek justice and love mercy because we’re simply addicted to our own comfort. There is so much privilege I take for granted, so much injustice in the world I don’t inconvenience myself with, so many people that I indirectly oppress simply by living my American lifestyle. Jesus has plenty to say on this topic:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” Luke 6:24-25
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table … The time came when the beggar died…the rich man also died…In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony…” Luke 16:19-31
“Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Luke 18:24
Ouch, Jesus. Ouch.
So yeah, I have some repenting to do.
If you have never observed Lent before (or if, like I’ve been known to do, you’ve been thinking this might be a good year to skip it), I invite you to join me on this journey.
Step one: Find an Ash Wednesday service near you and go to it. Lutheran, Anglican and Catholic churches will generally have a short evening service.
Step two: Choose something you will give up for 40 days. In my next post, I will give a couple of creative fasting ideas to help us identify with the poor…stay tuned.
Step three: Comment to our blog or send us a facebook message to let us know you are entering into Lent with us. We would love to pray for you and with you.Image courtesy of Gary Wilmore / Flickr.com