March 1, 2017 – Today is the first day of Lent, typically known as Ash Wednesday. It is the 40-day period preceding Easter.
Lent is not an observance mentioned in the New Testament. However, the observance of Lent developed fairly early in Christian tradition. Some think it is a reference to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness while others say it was a “formalization” of the preparation period of new believers who would be baptized on Easter. The term “Lent” is ambiguous, with the seeming best guess being it referred to the “lengthening of days” during the spring season.
During my lifetime I have watched Lent become more observed and recognized by evangelicals, and by our Nazarenes. In recent years our Nazarene Publishing House provided books and study guides for this season.
From the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I always tried to orient the churches I pastored to Lent in various ways, the most notable being worship services and preaching that eventually led us to the Upper Room and the Cross, then culminating in Resurrection celebration on Easter. To somehow just “show up” at Easter, or for that matter even Holy Week, without preparation seems like trying to cook a fine meal in a microwave. Something just isn’t right.
My concerns … I always have concerns, it seems 🙂 … about Lent are at two extremes. One, as already mentioned, is it is not observed. I simply cannot imagine a church “skipping Lent” in favor of other things perceived as better or more relevant. My other concern about Lent is that it becomes so focused on oneself that we lose sight of the Savior.
The idea of “giving up something for Lent” is good, providing it reminds us of Jesus and does not turn into only a feat of self-determination. And another fear, seen in more recent years, is that Lent becomes the season of constant self-denigration. It seems Lent, for many, has become all about our sinfulness, which if not careful only turns into another form of self-centeredness. I know it sounds perverse, but we can almost become proud and self-absorbed in our unrighteousness.
So, my counsel for Lent? No doubt let us remember why the “Suffering Servant” came: “to bear the sin of many.” However, in those observances let us readily acknowledge our need but just as much remember and humbly give thanks that “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
The primary message of Lent must always be about HIM. For that matter, the primary message of every season must always be about HIM.