Lent will start on Wednesday, the 25th of February in 2009, and will continue for 46 days until Saturday, the 11th of April. So what is the significance of that for many of us?
Lent is the traditional fasting time that extends from Ash Wednesday through Easter. It is to represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted, some believe. For most Christian traditions (those which incorporate it into their Church calender) it means that people give up something as a form of fasting and self denial. Ash Wednesday is a day to reflect on one’s mortality, and the whole mood of the season is the coin side to Christmas.
Why should we think this is significant?
Unless your Church considers it so, I am not sure that it has a powerful significance for us today, although I do think some of the exercises are useful. Giving up something, for instance. I benefited when, early in my Christian walk, I gave up smoking cigarettes for Lent. It helped me quit the habit, and I haven’t had a cigarette since! That was a great health decision which, at the time, I had no idea how much it would benefit me.
Fasting has a place of importance, certainly.
Fasting has the effect of exposing how tied we are to our desires, and how much the lust of the flesh is able to rule in your life. Taking a brief period to realize this fact has certain advantages. I don’t think it makes us “holier”, and we have to watch the human tendency to attach spiritual value to our ability to sacrifice such things. It might be good to keep in mind the remonstrances: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” Hosea 6:6
and “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22)
But if you keep that in mind, I think it can be an advantage to use the time of Lent to help us to center on walking the “way of the cross” and learning a little more of what it means to deny “self”.
Our modern culture doesn’t know a great deal about denying self. It almost seems like something that is wrong, or at least unhealthy, in our climate of self affirming and authenticating. But think about this for a moment: Isn’t the inflation of self the very thing that gives rise to greed and selfishness? Isn’t that at the root of most social problems, especially those we most want to eradicate? When viewed from that perspective, simplifying, greening, being more compassionate…all very modern values that we recognize as significant for healthy change are really only small expressions of that same concept found in Christian self denial, in following Jesus as He took up His cross.
I think we may follow the spirit of the traditional Lent and gain a great deal spiritually, in the sense of the paradoxical truth:
Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:33