The Lenten season is now upon us. We have met together in worship to receive ashes and Holy Communion. Many of us have made commitments to fast from an item or an attitude. Our worship style on Sundays will change and involve a deepened sense of somberness and penance as we await the joy of Easter.
We will wear our ashes only for a few minutes or hours, but we will wear our penitence for 40 days as we move alongside Jesus in the wilderness, clearing space for God in our lives by removing those things that may have had too much prominence or influence. The ashes remind us of our mortality: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19, NRSV) What are we doing with our limited lifespan that glorifies God and loves our neighbor? How can a Lenten journey help us refocus our energy in our lives?
First, we must recognize what Lent is and is not. What does a fast, or clearing time, really look like? Is it simply a work of removing a favorite item or activity - or perhaps just trying to be a better person by lying or gossiping less? Are we just supposed to mope around for 40 days feeling sorry for all we have done and missing our favorite chocolate snack?
Lent was never meant to be an individual self-help endeavor, something akin to a 40 day cleanse to lose weight (though caring for health is important and perhaps part of your Lenten journey). And it certainly was never meant to be simply a period of moping for the sake of feeling sorry for ourselves (and maybe making others feel sorry for us too!).
No, Lent is meant to do something much deeper in our lives. Done rightly, the fasting of Lent begins to open our hearts to the voice of the Spirit of God upon our lives - not merely to dress ourselves in mourning clothes to draw attention to our fast. As the prophet Joel said:
"...rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." (Joel 2:13, NRSV)
Lent is for reflection, change, and remembering in hope that while we are from ash and will return to ash, we are God's beloved, marked with the sign of the cross; we are remembered and loved.
How will you spend your fasting time this Lenten season? Will you spend it complaining of a missing treat? Will you yearn so much for what is missing that you miss the point of the season?
Or will you instead seek to fill the space of fasting with a genuine seeking of God? Will you take those moments of longing and fill them with a longing for God's presence? Will you find new ways to hear God's voice in your life? Will you find a way to put aside a prejudice or unholy part of yourself? Will you find new ways to be charitable to and seek justice for your neighbors? Will you stop staring at your computer screen and really see the wonder of creation, the joy of a little child, the peace found in solitude?
May God be among us in our wilderness this season as we learn to slow down, listen, and prepare our hearts for the word God has for us. Only then will the joy of Easter truly move our souls, as we, in joyful concert with the Spirit of God, rejoice at the overcoming of the death to ashes and the hope of eternity!
This blog post originally appeared on the Pastor's Blog.