Keeping a Holy Lent
Lent is the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer – through prayer, penance, reflection, and self-denial, for Easter. According to the gospels, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation, before the beginning of his public ministry. Thus, Lent is described as being forty days long. The Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are not counted as being part of Lent because Sunday was the day that Christ rose and is not considered a day of fasting, thus the forty days.
In his book, Whistling in the Dark, Presbyterian pastor and author Frederick Buechner invites us into a Lenten observance as we follow in the footsteps of our Lord. He writes:
“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.
- If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
- When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
- If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
- Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
- Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
- If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”
May your Lenten journey be one that leads you from ashes to an empty tomb!