We’ve entered the season of Lent. It is a lengthy, forty-day fast. It begins in the desert with Jesus and it ends in Jesus’ death. It’s a solemn season. It’s one where we get in touch with how we’ve drifted from God and how we’ve been tempted and succumbed to the temptations around us.
It’s a reflective season. One where we consider how we can restore and deepen our connection with Jesus. It’s a sorrowful season. One where we grieve how we’ve strayed and what caused us to move away from God. It’s a season of suffering, where we endure pain and where we move through it. It is a season where we learn to deny ourselves for the sake of Jesus.
It’s a long season. By the end of it, we should feel a little worn out and a little tired, and ready for Resurrection. But not yet. The sun will rise. The Son will rise! But in Lent, hold out for Easter, and try to suspend yourself. Jesus is alive and well in the world today, but Lent is about the drama of his suffering and his death. He suffers with us, and we suffer with him. He dies for us, and we die with him.
The Gospels are biographies of Jesus, and like it was common in Hellenistic biographies, the death sequence is extended. For the book of John, the final week of Jesus spans from chapter 10 to chapter 21. That’s half of the book! I don’t want to reduce the extension of the drama of Jesus’ death in the gospels to a literary and historical answer, though. I do think the death of Jesus is meaningful and extending it gives us a unique opportunity to enter into our own suffering. We get to answer what needs to die in us so that we may rise with Christ.
I first learned and observed Lent in Circle of Hope, so our community practice has shaped my understanding. Before Circle of Hope, Lent (and Ash Wednesday) was just a Catholic thing. I’m grateful that I got to observe it more closely with this community and come to appreciate it (and other liturgy, in fact) more.
There are a few things that have benefited my experience, as I move through my own repentance and suffering during this grave season.
We need silence for reflection about how we’ve moved from God. But also to move away from all of the distractions around us that keep us from listening to God speak to us. God is with us. God is suffering alongside of us. But we are also suffering because of how we’ve moved away from the Lord. Our silence gives us a chance to hear from God and to be called back to God. It clears our mind from all the distractions that we face and it helps us become in tune with our pain and sorrow when the noise around us so easily deafens us to it. If you want, take a retreat during Lent. Circle of Hope is hosting one on March 17 as well, if you would like to join.
Many of us “give things up” for Lent. Often times, people will sacrifice sweets or food of some kind. Others will sacrifice social media or a little sleep. Coffee is a big one. We fast to intentionally suffer, so that we become more familiar with our suffering and our longing. And sometimes we fast from things that have moved us from God. There are occasionally tertiary benefits to fasting. Maybe giving up cigarettes for forty days will help you beat the habit. Or maybe eating less cookies will help you lose some of the weight you gained during Christmas. But those benefits aren’t the reason to do it. It is not a process of “self-help,” as my friend recently said, it is one of “self-forgetting.” During Lent, we forget ourselves in order to remember Jesus. We empty ourselves, in order to be filled with God.
At our congregations, you can expect the observation of the Lord’s Supper each week. This is a time to remember the death of Jesus and how it saves us from death and from sin. The bread and the juice symbolize the body and the blood. We find relief in that observation. We find forgiveness in it. We find wholeness in it. But it is done in such a bloody, deathly way, it may free us but it also marks us. We learn that we were bought with a price. That our salvation costed something. But we now have an opportunity to be free to suffer and to endure suffering, because we are saved. We are one with Christ, who suffered for all, so that all may live. We are free to suffer without fear. But also free to live without death. We can practice our faith and fail at it without fear of condemnation. Fear is not a way toward peace.
Prepare yourself to enact the drama of Jesus’ final week, during Holy Week. We will walk with Jesus toward death figuratively as we sojourn around the city, attending observances each evening in the final week of Lent. We begin with Palm Sunday and end in the grave on Saturday. At the very least, you can follow along at our Daily Prayer site (both of which are devoted to Lent during the great fast)
Finally, because the season is long and because our stamina is short, or at least it can be, take advantage of the opportunities to worship. This happens throughout the season and also on the mini-Easters, on the six Sundays throughout the season. We will suffer, repent, reflect, and endure during the season. Our souls will be weary. For many of us, our souls are weary. May these worship opportunities give you a chance to rest, but also a chance to suffer well and receive your relief from some of the pain. The beauty is that they may enrich you in a way that your usual coping mechanisms don’t. They may restore you back to the comfort of the Lord (instead of the comfort you may be sacrificing).
Enter into our long season with us. You may come out new, changed, transformed. Maybe resurrected.
For more info, check out circleofhope.net/Lent.