In many ways, life is about rhythm and structure. I think we’ve seen this ring true over the past year, as a lot of our structure has been taken away. This has certainly been true at church. Events, services, small groups, and outreach have all been severely adjusted or flat out removed for periods of time.
Although the past year has brought on many difficulties, in a positive way, it has opened the door for a lot of evaluation. Do our rhythms make sense? What should we keep doing? What should we consider changing? What are we doing well? How can we improve? We want our rhythms in life and in church specifically to have a pointed purpose. We don’t want them to be highways put in place for simply coasting along.
The two most important rhythms in the church are the Christmas and Easter seasons. Most churches fully buy into the season of weeks leading up to Christmas, although it can be convoluted. At Forestpark, we have tried to embrace the season of Advent as a way to focus on the beautiful truths surrounding Jesus’s birth. It’s a season of waiting, anticipation and hope. These are appropriate themes to dwell on as we reflect on the incarnation – God entering into the world to meet us where we are.
In a similar way, as we enter into the Easter season, it seems appropriate that we reflect on themes, which will aid us in fully appreciating what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I think that “Lent” beautifully accomplishes this purpose.
Lent, just as Advent, has been developed and observed by the Church throughout her history. It covers the time span from “Ash Wednesday” to “Easter Sunday.” This six and a half week period is more than twice the length of Advent, but it is still hardly enough time to adequately reflect on Jesus’s cross and His empty grave. With that being said, Lent still gives us a season to prepare ourselves for the weighty truths and the range of emotions that are meant to accompany “Good Friday” and “Easter Sunday.” Even more so than Christmas, these two holy days in the Church calendar, are not meant to be a drive by experience. It’s well worthwhile to go through the Easter season with care and intentionality.
Now neither “Lent” nor “Advent” are prescribed in the Bible. These rhythms are not explicit commands from the Lord. I don’t want anyone to feel that they must participate in Lent or that they must do it in a certain way. The Roman Catholic Church has one way of observing Lent – fasting from something of personal preference, fasting from meat on Fridays, and a food fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Eastern Orthodox Church has a much stricter way of observing Lent, through a strict diet and a longer period of observance. Most Western churches have a wide variety of (typically more lenient) ways of participating in Lent. Churches should not be interested in playing the comparison game here, they should be interested in drawing near to Jesus.
No matter how it is practiced, the core principle of Lent is repentance. We cannot rightly look at the horror of the cross and the beautiful victory of the resurrection, if we don’t take the humble posture of repentance. Lent should be a season, where we focus on repentance, so we might be reminded of its importance throughout the rest of the year. In Lent, based on the precedent we see in scripture, repentance is associated with fasting (i.e. Nehemiah 9:1; Zechariah 7:4-6). Fasting helps demonstrate the serious and genuine nature of repentance. However it’s done, Lent intends to be a time, where God’s people work through a healthy evaluation of their own frailty and their need for God’s grace. For “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”
I pray that through this season of Lent, we will experience and cherish the Lord’s grace and love. If you don’t already have something in mind. Below are some Lent devotionals to help guide you through the season. Also, I encourage you to talk with your church family about fasting and what that might look like for you as an experience of spiritual growth.
Grace and Peace
 It’s “Ash Monday” in the Eastern Orthodox Church.