This was the whole reason why Jesus was sent on a rescue mission: a mission to bring me back to life.
I felt frazzled. It had been a busy week preparing for Easter. I had spent the week cleaning the house, making food, buying new clothes, and filling Easter baskets for the kids with colored jellybeans and chocolate bunnies. However, I felt something was missing. I wanted to slow down time, to prepare myself for the real meaning behind the holiday. I didn’t just want to experience the cultural trappings—which while fun, felt as hollow as the chocolate bunny.
Then I discovered Lent. I grew up in a Christian tradition that didn’t include Lent; however, I’d already begun incorporating Advent traditions into our family, so I felt like the next step was to begin embracing Lent as well, whether my church tradition did or not.
Traditionally, the purpose of Lent is to prepare one’s heart for the coming of Easter through remembrance and repentance, culminating in the celebration of the Resurrection. Fasting and prayer are two important elements of Lent, which start on Ash Wednesday and end on Easter morning. Lent is forty days long, mirroring the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry. Although Lenten practices can be traced all the way back to the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, it certainly is not a practice demanded by God in the Bible. It is, however, a practice that I’ve found immensely beneficial to my spiritual formation.
Lent is a season of remembering Christ’s work on the cross. Most of us who are Christians are familiar with Communion, and just like pausing in a service to drink of the cup and eat of the bread that remind us of Christ’s crucifixion, I’m pausing during my year to focus specifically on Jesus and His sacrifice for an extended length of time.
But how does one practically do this? Usually, I pick something “Lent specific” to read that starts on Ash Wednesday and goes through Easter that focuses my thoughts on Jesus and his sacrifice for me. Also, fasting is one aspect of Lent that helps my wandering mind focus as well.
I was not familiar with fasting until I started learning more about Lent. Sure, I knew what it meant. I’d heard of people fasting from chocolate, and one time a friend fasted from social media during Lent. I knew Jesus fasted when he went out to the wilderness prior to starting his public ministry. But otherwise, it sounded quaint and brought to mind monks worshipping in a monastery instead of something that a 21st-century Christian would do. Tsh Oxenreider explains the purpose of fasting in her new book about Lent, Bitter & Sweet: “Fasting is simply an intentional way of putting ourselves in the way of grace by removing our reliance on earthly things. When we do so, we can feast more fully on the delight of God’s goodness in our lives. Fasting is a form of voluntarily and temporarily making ourselves weak so the power of Christ may more fully dwell in us (2 Corinthians 12:9).” When I am tempted to indulge in what I am fasting from, it’s a concrete reminder that Jesus is my salvation and will give me the power to live out that salvation in the everyday moments of life.
Lent is also a season of repentance. Even though I’ve placed my trust in Christ’s work and am secure in his grasp, it is good for me to remember the why behind the whole narrative arc of Scripture. I needed forgiveness and there was nothing I could do to accomplish it. The Bible uses the metaphor of “dead in sin” to describe my condition before salvation (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). This was the whole reason why Jesus was sent on a rescue mission: a mission to bring me back to life.
While I am secure in my salvation, a lifestyle of repentance should characterize the Christian life, not in an attempt to earn salvation, but as a demonstration of it. As Martin Luther wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This isn’t a sort of self-flagellation, but instead, describing a lifestyle of constant turning from sin and back to Jesus. It’s too easy for me to become hardened to sin. I’m constantly bombarded with it within myself, others, the news I read, the Netflix shows I see. I can too easily cease to recognize the need for repentance.
Lent helps my conscience become more sensitive again. As Edna Hong writes in Bread and Wine, “The purpose of Lent is not to escape conscience, but to create a healthy hatred for evil, a heartfelt contrition for sin, and a passionately felt need for grace.” A life of repentance ultimately brings freedom. Freedom from sin and freedom to experience grace. Repentance doesn’t mean wallowing in what I have done wrong, but instead, rejoicing in grace and mercy!
After forty days of remembrance and repentance, there is Resurrection! Easter represents the reality that though “in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). The last enemy to be destroyed is death, and Jesus has done just that. Now, we can relish the life Christ has to offer and live in that freedom.
Christopher Friedrich Blumhardt writes in Watch for the Light, “Jesus came and departed. But his resurrection means that everything in God’s kingdom is alive; in every moment something is happening.” God is still working. He is resurrecting hearts that were once dead to him and bringing them back to life.
Practicing Lent doesn’t earn God’s approval or make me more virtuous or righteous in God’s sight. However, it does help me look beyond the cultural trappings of Easter and help me celebrate this season in a robust, deep, powerful way that benefits my soul. Now, as I arrange the chocolates and marshmallow bunnies in the Easter baskets, I am more ready to celebrate the joy and abundance and all that Easter will bring. Because I’ve spent forty days steeping myself in remembrance and repentance, I am ready for resurrection!
What about you? Perhaps you didn't grow up in a home that practiced Lent either, but you think this year is the year to give it a try! If so, I have a few resources to share with you:
Reading for Your Lenten Journey
If you are looking for resources to begin your own Lenten journey, let me suggest a few that have been life-giving to me:
She Reads Truth is an organization that provides Bible study and devotional plans either in hard copy or digital formats. Check out their website for this year’s Lent study of Ezekiel.
Oxenreider’s new book provides context for the background of Lent plus daily readings and prayer prompts.
Readings from various classic authors such as Oswald Chambers to Wendell Berry arranged by theme such as “Temptation,” “Crucifixion,” and “Resurrection.”
Arthur draws from across literature—from poetry to prose—to create daily readings throughout the liturgical season. (For those who love literature!)
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Austin Ban
Danielle Ayers Jones has been a contributing writer for the online magazine, Ungrind, and has written for Thriving Family, Clubhouse, Jr., Radiant, and Relevant. She also combines her love of writing and photography on her blog, www.danielleayersjones.com. It’s a space where she seeks to find beauty in everyday places, joy in hardship, and encouragement in unexpected places. Danielle currently lives in Maryland with her husband and three children. You can follow her on Twitter @daniajones.