We are midway through this year’s Lenten season. Lent may or may not be something you traditionally think about. Many do. Lent (literally springtime) was popularized in the fourth century and had a different and more practical purpose than we might think seventeen centuries later. As one of the oldest Christian observations, the original intent was a period set aside for reflection and self-examination, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Like other Christian holy days and holidays, it has morphed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same.
How might it have morphed? If we were to poll people this week as to the purpose of Lent, we would likely hear something about what we should give up during the 6+ weeks leading up to Easter. For many, self-denial has become the main focus. We/you might likely have a similar view. If so, we find ourselves entering this springtime with a negative perspective.
I live in Minnesota. With 2 feet of snow on the ground and another 4-6″ of snow predicted yet this week, I am not hearing many people dread the coming of spring. Who would want to approach spring sullenly? Or Lent?
The editors of Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter suggest that “Lent should never be morose – an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement.” After all, the main purpose of fasting (forgoing of a pleasure) is to provide more opportunities to discover and enjoy God. There is an old liturgy that refers to the Lenten season as “this joyful season.”
You may have reached this halfway point of Lent 2023 without giving it much thought. It’s not too late to step into the season. It’s never too late! How might we approach Lent this year in a manner that brings joy? Here are a few suggestions…
- Read one of the Gospels. This is always a good starting place. You can plan your reading so that you finish at Easter, providing you with the backstory leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Or listen to the Gospels with Annie F. Downs.
- Find an online Lenten devotional like the one from Baylor University or Biola University. It’s OK to start in the middle (why do we westerners struggle with that?).
- Find a weekly Lenten service with the express purpose of discovering and enjoying God in new ways.
- Since we are talking about the hope of springtime, N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope would be a good book to start during Lent (though it will probably take you well-past Easter to finish).
Whatever you choose to do during the remainder of this season of Lent, God will meet you, further revealing himself to you (I speak from experience). Blessings!