Lent is hope. When most people think of Lent, we think of something else. Lent is seen as a time of sacrifice, or possibly service. For many centuries, the practice was to “give something up for Lent.” Christians looked to the life of Jesus as the example for us to follow. We might not spend forty days fasting in the wilderness, but we can deny ourselves just a little. Giving up chocolate is one of the standards. Some deprive ourselves of a favorite drink, or even a tv show. We know that this is far from the level of deprivation that Christ endured, but it can remind us of just how much we take for granted.
In more recent years we have rediscovered the thought of “taking something on” for Lent. Reading our way through one of the gospels is an excellent way to go. Setting aside a time for daily prayer works well for some. Others offer a gift of time – to a community grouping, a friend (or even a stranger) in need. The life of Jesus was informed by the reading of scripture, prayer and reflection, compassion and service. When we take any of these on we may find our lives and our faith deepened as a result.
Whether you are drawn to any of these practices, or have discovered one of your own, it’s helpful to remember that the purpose of Lent is not to feel bad. For Christians in the early centuries, the forty days of Lent were a time of preparation for baptism which would take place on Easter Sunday. It was a time of learning and growth, of encouragement and struggle, all for the purpose of receiving the gift of new life and hope. It was headed to joy and celebration.
So Lent is hope. Lent has actually always been about hope. And it is where the whole story has been pointed right from the beginning. It is a story of compassion and care, from the first moment of creation. It is the story of the birth of a people, their journey through the disasters and the triumphs of slavery and liberation, kingdom and captivity, restoration and renewal. Through all of this God was at work, sharing grace and leading us in hope. In the life of Jesus Christ we see even more clearly the character, the depth of God’s love for this crazy family of ours.
As we move through Lent this year, I invite us to do so in a spirit of hope. God is still leading us, in the midst of the disasters and triumphs of our time, the struggles and the joys of our lives. We are followers of the One whose life, death and resurrection, is the most hopeful gift we have ever received. With you, I look forward to where he leads us next.
Grace and peace,