What is the practice of Lent for?

With Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day and Easter on April Fool’s day, I was joking with one of my Catholic friends what this is an awkward season for them. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for a lot of the Catholic practices and traditions. You’ll find differences in how people explain these practices based on what they understand from their upbringing or what their particular branch of Catholicism practices. With this week being the start of the season of Lent, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts from my understanding of Lent to help you get more out of these practices.

Lent is focused on the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism and before starting his ministry. These 40 days of fasting and praying helped center his focus on who he is as the Son of God and what his ministry is as the Messiah. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus continually going off to solitary places for the purpose of prayer. In short, prayer should shape our lives and center us in our reality of being sons and daughters of God. Lent isn’t just about giving something up as an act of repentance or sacrifice. Lent is about re-centering your life, reminding yourself of who you are and who God is.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and runs till Easter Sunday. If you ever stop to count how many days that is, you’ll see that there are more than 40 days. There are six Sundays in Lent before Easter Sunday which has developed a debater of whether or not you get Sundays as “cheat days” to have the things you have given up. There’s a lot of debate around different practices for how people approach Sundays during Lent. Here is my understanding from theology and Church history.

For your own study: Take some time this week to sit and reflect on Romans 5, 2 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21:1-8; 21:22-22:5. What do these passages say about the Resurrection? What will be resurrected? How will our resurrection be like Christ’s resurrection? How have we already received the resurrection? Have we received it fully? What is God’s end game? How does all of this matter for how we live today?

Everything in Lent is building up to the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection is the hope that we have in Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Lent begins with Ash Wednesday where the person is reminded of the current state of the world. We have not fully received the Resurrection and the World has not been made new yet. While we are in our current state, we are not fully with God. Ash Wednesday is a day to set your focus on the brokenness of this world and your own brokenness. What you give up for Lent is intended to be a reminder of the brokenness of this creation. When you give up something, you begin to long for it. You desire it. This helps you focus spiritually on the Resurrection, when God will make all things new again (Rev. 21:5).

There is a longing inside each of us for redemption. Each day we are reminded that while we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we still await fullness (2 Cor. 5). Because we are people who have been reconciled to God, and continue to be reconciled, we also participate with God in bringing about reconciliation to the world around us. The Season of Lent is a season of remembering what God is doing in this broken world through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, what about the Sundays during Lent debate? We gather together on Sundays (all year) because it is the day of the Resurrection. We celebrate the Resurrection of Christ every Sunday, but Easter is a special Sunday set aside to focus more on the Resurrection of Christ. If Lent is helping you focus on your brokenness and need for redemption, then Sundays are not a “cheat day,” but a day to “Taste and see that the LORD is good…” (Psalm 34:8). When you give up something you love throughout the week and then partake of it on Sunday, you are reminded of the redemption and the goodness that will come in the Resurrection. You taste of it in small amounts each Sunday and then fully restore it back to your life at Easter.

With each disaster, #metoo story, sickness, war, death, etc. that I encounter or read about, I am reminded that this world is not as God desired for it to be. He created a perfect world and sin broke it. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation, to partner with God in righting the wrongs of this world. Lent reminds us of the depravity of this world as we long for the Resurrection.