I was brought up as a Pentecostal kid in the West of Scotland which meant “lent” was what happened when we allowed the neighbours to borrow our lawn mower. (you need to be Scottish to get that) I had some Catholic friends and I discovered through them that Lent was something Catholics did just before Easter and seemed to be mainly about giving up chocolate. Now we definitely weren’t Catholic and didn’t want to be infected by anything which might make us “papish” as it was called so we had nothing to do with Lent. In fact, I am sure some in the West of Scotland some were so committed to being Protestant that out of principle they started something for Lent! (I made that up, but it wasn’t far short of the truth )
In the last ten years or so my attitude has totally changed, I have developed a growing appreciation of Lent. I think this change in my attitude to Lent happened for a couple of reasons. I have been lucky enough to study a good bit of church history and that helped me understand better the history behind Lent and that better understanding helped me to begin to overcome my prejudice and start to appreciate what Lent was all about.
So here is a very potted history. Lent developed from the early church’s determination to be serious about discipleship. Converts back then were most often baptised at Easter and before they were allowed to be baptised they went through a sort of new believers class, the ancient equivalent of today’s discipleship courses. It seems like those who were already believers decided that this was such a good idea that they got a bit “jealous.” So the church eventually made the 40 or so days before Easter a time when the whole church, not just new believers, thought seriously about their faith, about what Christians believe and how Christians behave. So Lent became a time during which Christians got serious about being Christians, facing up to the areas of their lives that needed to change. Lent became linked to Jesus’ 40 days in the Wilderness, resisting temptation and gaining victory over Satan and so fasting and Scripture reading became an important part of Lent.
Lent developed into something which is pretty unpopular in our culture, self denial and sacrifice. I like that because self denial make us more aware of our true needs. When we deny ourselves the comforts we are used to—whether food, or some other part of our daily routine (TV, coffee, alcohol, Internet, etc.)— we become more aware of our great need for God. Also, when we deny our sinful desires, we are made more acutely aware of them, when they are not fed, they tend to surface in more noticeable ways. Most importantly, these practices remind us of our very real need for salvation by Jesus’ death on the cross.
I also learned to appreciate Lent because I could see in my own life and in the churches I have been involved in that there was a real need for a time to get serious about being a Christian. A time to really face up what is going in my life, whether I am growing spiritually, whether I am still struggling with the same temptations and sins and of course to think deeply about Jesus and all that he did and went through for my salvation. I have discovered that the more seriously I take Lent the more joyful my celebration of Easter is. When I have been serious about Lent I have discovered that I realise again just how much I need the salvation which only Christ can provide and how much it cost Christ to provide that salvation. As a wise old spiritual writer once said, only when you have cried tears of grief at the cross will you be able to cry tears of joy at the empty tomb.
Lent today then is primarily a time for serious reflection, usually accompanied by fasting, praying and giving to those in need. It helps us face up to any self-centredness that may have infected us and get our focus off ourselves and on to Jesus and others. Now that has to be spiritually significant for us as Christians and as a community doesn’t it? That’s why I want to invite you to “Journey With Jesus” this Lent. We are going to be doing several to help us participate in Lent and I would encourage you to get involved.
1. Scripture. We are going to journey with Jesus to the cross and empty tomb by blogging our way through John’s Gospel. We did this last year and it was profound. Each day someone in our community shared some thoughts about the verses for that day. I was amazed at the insight and wisdom that came through those blog posts, it felt as a community we were really travelling with Jesus. Amanda is going to organise this and is recruiting volunteers, she will try and give you your text a good week in advance and then you write some thoughts send it back to her and she’ll post it on the appropriate day.
2. Prayer, Rosemary has produced a prayer diary. Let’s make sure we get actively involved in praying daily for the various people, situations and needs she highlights. We’ll have a couple of corporate times of prayer too.
3. Self – Denial. Why not consider joining hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide in giving something up? You could give something in your daily routine, perhaps if you buy a cup of coffee, give that up? The idea would also be to set the money aside to give to those in need. You could perhaps also consider giving up something that would allow you to devote that time to your relationship to God? Maybe give up watching the news or rereading newspapers for instance, or reading novels and devote the time that you would normally have spent doing those things praying or rereading Scripture.
4. Giving. We can’t avoid it because Jesus couldn’t, sacrifice, is essential to following Jesus. At our Gatherings there will be an opportunity to give and we will use all the money we collect through Lent to help those in need in our city.
Lent starts on 20th of February just next week.