and unto dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15)
Those two verses are what we hear on Ash Wednesday as ashes are placed upon our forehead. They explain our lives so well. We are fallen people, who are mortal and will one day die. But that’s not the end. If we repent and believe in the Good News, then death is not the end. There is hope, hope in the Resurrection! Death is not the end! And so, every year on Easter we celebrate the Resurrection (technically we do every Sunday, but this is THE Sunday). But before that celebration is the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday), and before all that is Lent. While remembering The Passion right before Easter makes sense (one giant long historical remembrance of the events that led to the Resurrection), why does Lent exists, and what is its purpose?
The most basic answer is that we need time to prepare for Easter. Just like one would need time to prepare for graduation, a wedding, or any celebration, we also need time to prepare for Easter (and a prefigure to our wait for the 2nd coming). Jesus himself needed time to prepare for His ministry after He was baptized. He went out into the wilderness for 40 days to prepare himself for his destiny. And so, like Jesus, we too venture out into the ‘wilderness’, preparing ourselves for the coming of The Lord. But how do we prepare? What exactly are we to do during this season of Lent?
We are all familiar of the practice of giving things up for Lent. (To the point some people like to give up ‘giving up stuff’ for Lent…) This is one of the ways we can prepare ourselves, by giving up something in our life for God. The other practice is doing something more. Starting something new to aid in our development as Disciples of Christ. But why do these things?
Many people see the above and think of something to do for Lent, do it, and then once Lent is over they return to their old ways. (Example: Many of us probably gave up sweets for Lent as kids, and on Easter would pig out on all the candy in our Easter Baskets.) But this misses the entire purpose of Lent, and completely ignores the main point of that verse from Mark. Repent! Turn away from your old life, and live your life in Christ! Instead of seeing Lent as this ‘inconvenience’ of having to do or give up something for a strict time, look at it as a kind of ‘New Year’s Resolution’, but aimed at their purpose of deepening your relationship with God in the long-term.
Think on the following when deciding on your Lenten plans, which you are always free to change during Lent if it proves too easy or difficult! There’s no shame in realizing you’re in over your head or breezing through it. What things in my life take my time away from God and others? What things are unhealthy for me? What could I do to better my prayer life? What could I do to be a better person to the people I meet every day?
That is a much more thoughtful and fulfilling way to think about Lent. Instead of looking at it as a time of temporary trial and sacrifice, look at it as a time for trying out some way to better your relationship with God and others. And so, as The Little Black Book says in its pages, “Make this the BEST Lent ever.” And my own hope, is that this Lent is one that perhaps will change your life for the better.