Why is Lent important to Christians?
Season provides time to reflect on mortality
The Rev. Jonathon Jensen, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt.:
Early Christians observed a "season of penitence and fasting" in preparation for Easter, which is our celebration of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The season is 40 days (excluding Sundays) beginning with Ash Wednesday and concluding with the first Easter services. Those 40 days are a reflection of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. The word "Lent" comes from an old English word meaning "spring" or the lengthening of days.
In its essence, Lent is a time of preparation. Christians are invited at the beginning of the season on Ash Wednesday "to the observance of a Holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial and meditating on God's word."
This call to a Holy Lent is important for at least two reasons.
Lent reminds us to slow down and re-orient ourselves to God and our neighbor. It is a precious gift in a culture that encourages us to "have it your way" or have "all you can eat" or multitask yourself to death. Lent is like a blinking yellow traffic light on the road sign that says proceed with care. Those 40 days help us to see what is around us rather than speeding past it or through it. It is also a time to take stock of what really matters to you. Who or what is most important to you? Do you spend enough time with who or what you value? Are you neglecting what really matters? Do you even have time to think about it anymore?
Lent is also important for another reason. It is a time to reflect on our mortality. Our culture is very successful at keeping us focused on our wants and needs in the here and now. We are taught and encouraged in every way to try to stay or feel or look young -- to fight off the inevitable. We are rarely intentional about approaching aging and death as natural parts of life. Lent is a gift that reminds us that our mortal bodies don't live forever, but our souls will rest with God. The season moves the focus from avoiding aging and death to welcoming life and, in time, a holy and dignified death.
One way to address this is to respond to this question: If you knew the exact date and time of your death, would you change how you live your life now? What would be different? Why aren't you living like that now? Lent re-orients our priorities from the transitory nature of this life to our ultimate consummation of eternal life in the embrace of God.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Jonathon Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lenten season focuses on self-examination
The Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
If you have ever found yourself pondering a question like this -- perhaps in a quiet moment sandwiched between the hustle and bustle of your day -- Lent may be the season for you.
Lent comes from the Latin word lentare that means simply "lengthening," as in the lengthening days of spring. New Christians in the early church were baptized as adults on Easter Sunday. So Lent -- the 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays) -- was a time of preparation in anticipation of the big day.
The 40 days parallel Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil. For us as Christians, Lent is a time given to us for our own inner testing, self-examination, fasting and prayer.
Many believers "give up something" for Lent. Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during this period.
The "giving up something" should not, in my view, be seen as an end in itself (Hey, look -- I lost all these pounds!) but as a means to have a closer walk with God.
Lent is a mournful season. Worship may invite more quiet, hence more time for introspection. The music may be offered in the melancholy minor key.
Above all, we humans need the honesty Lent brings. We are so prone to self-deception and distraction.
As Jesus fought off the demons in the wilderness, so might we in this season fight off ours. As angels came and ministered to Jesus at the end of his 40 days (Mark 1:12), so do we believe at the end our trials looms the one who brings life out of death.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Peter Luckey at email@example.com.