The Why and What of Lent

By Greg Gardner

Friends, if you have been in a liturgical church tradition for a time, you may have noticed the change of tone and tenor during the liturgical season of Lent- the gradual progression away from the familiar lightness and joy in worship, and towards the seemingly more stark and solemn.  If we are attentive, we will notice the occasional lack of harmony and the increased dissonance in the worship music. If we allow, we are pulled into the emotions and experience of this time of solemnity and foreboding, and become participants in the drama of Jesus’s walk towards the cross- Imperial Rome’s frequently used instrument of humiliation and execution for those who might challenge its oppressive, law-and-order authority. Moreover, we reenact and join along side Jesus in his journey to unjust suffering and execution. We identify with his feelings of fear, abandonment and forsakenness, and we are challenged to identify with Jesus’s loyal followers as they, too, fell away in fear and despair. 

In the Lenten liturgy (literally, the work of God’s people in worship) we are invited to more closely recognize and acknowledge our discontent, irritability, discomfort, as well as the dissonance in our lives and in the world. During this intentional time of self-examination, we lament the places where we are broken, where shame, guilt and cynicism may have bound us, and where we have strayed from the difficult, yet life-giving example of Jesus. Then we turn from it, change direction and we petition our faithful God for strength, help and mercy. 

But wait. Isn’t the Gospel of Jesus good news? And here again is Lent, from the Old English word len(c)ten, meaning “spring season.” In our stillness and attentiveness, we begin to see more clearly the approaching light of spring, remembering the temporariness of the present moment. We anticipate the Easter, the Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα), and our rescue- God’s definitive YES that defeats those whose crass voices shout, “Give up. We have been abandoned and all is lost!”

The Lenten liturgy, the words we sing, say and pray, invite us to leave the seemingly safe space of our heads, to unclench our grip on our finite lives and our limited intellect, to step beyond our illusion of control, and to enter the seemly risky space of uncertainty and mystery. 

What Lent is most properly about is an effort to become more aware of the attitudes and behaviors that keep us from living the life God gives us in the way God desires of us, the way of life we know best from the example of Jesus, and the effort to form new attitudes and new behaviors that will help us follow more closely the way of Jesus.

And WE do this together, with our living God’s help, empowered by God’s ever-present Spirt, and with the support and encouragement of each other. This is indeed Good News. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *