By Rev. Dr. Tom Rice
Lent begins this week.
That sentence might raise for you some questions. What is “Lent?” And “Why should I care?”
Presbyterian author and pastor Frederick Buechner writes this:
“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves” (Listening to Your Life, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).
Maybe you are like me in this. As I was growing up, Lent was a mysterious thing that my Roman Catholic friends did. My Presbyterian church didn’t “observe” Lent. My Catholic friends would begin the forty days of preparing for Lent by going around with a “smudge” on their foreheads on what they called “Ash Wednesday.” We Protestants didn’t have a worship service on Ash Wednesday, didn’t receive ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, didn’t enjoy paczkis or other such rich delicacies on “Fat Tuesday.” After all, why “mark” the beginning of Lent when Lent is not for you and for your faith community.
My Roman Catholic friends gave up chocolate or something like that for Lent. But again, we Presbyterians didn’t “do” Lent. It was a “Catholic thing.” We didn’t give up anything--we didn’t do anything different as the calendar moved towards Easter.
Years have gone by, and we have learned some things. For one, we’ve learned that Lent isn’t just a “Roman Catholic” thing. It’s a “Christian thing.” It became a practice of the Christian community very early on (Irenaeus, a great early Christian teacher, writes about it in the year 203 AD. For our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters (from the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox and Eastern European churches), Lent continues to be a time of very rigorous fasting (for example, with no meat or animal products during the weekdays of Lent and one meal a day on weekdays and two meals on weekends). That makes giving up chocolate seem pretty easy in comparison, doesn’t it? The Orthodox Christian feast for Easter is an incredibly joyous time following the fasting.
We’ve also learned, in the Protestant tradition, that the ancient church had very good reason for “observing” Lent. We NEED a period of “spiritual exercise” so that we can be ready to experience the truth and power of Easter. We NEED, as Buechner puts it, to dedicate this “tenth” or “tithe” of the year to pay attention to what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
You might give something up. It might remind you that God is much more important to you than the television, or chocolate, or coffee, or whatever. As Jesus said during his forty days of fasting in the wilderness, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Or you might “take something on.” You might be disciplined about making time to pray each day, and read the Scripture each day, and care for someone in need each day—strengthening your spiritual “muscles” as you journey through Lent.
The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for “Spring.” May this season of Lent lead you and lead us all to new life in the Spirit, deeper discipleship and joy in our Lord, and, indeed, a renewed “Springtime” for our souls.
Read more about Lent activities at Worthington Presbyterian Church.