The invitation begins by reminding us that we are an Easter people. This is important because, if we ever forget it, Lent can become a depressing grind. Lent finds its meaning in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God invites us to celebrate the good news of resurrection every day, and to celebrate the good news of resurrection in a big way on Easter Sunday. Lent is all about getting ready for that celebration. Lent is all about opening our eyes to the good news of great joy that God triumphs even over death, that Christ is alive, that Christ offers us new life. Everything we do for Lent should point us to Easter.
Unfortunately, all of us fall short of that Easter good news in one way or another. All of us close ourselves off from God’s grace. All of us sometimes act in counter-productive and self-destructive ways. All of us suffer from sin and evil. All of us face the brutal reality of death.
The unpleasant fact that we fall short of the Easter good news is why we need Lent. God invites us to new life in Jesus Christ, and, we know in our hearts, we are not ready to accept God’s invitation.
Here’s an analogy, appropriate for Valentine’s Day. Last year, Carrie and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. For the first time in years, we pulled out our wedding album, and, I must say, we looked pretty good.
But a lot went in to getting me to the point of looking good. When we got engaged, I was a grungy graduate student, with hair down to my shoulders and a scruffy beard. I didn’t own any nice clothes.
Carrie agreed to marry me, but she suggested, gently but firmly, that I had a little work to do. So I cut my hair, and I shaved my beard, and I lost a little weight, and I bought decent clothes.
Easter is like a wedding banquet with Christ as our bridegroom. The wedding is all set. But we have a little work to do. That is what Lent is for.
The Church invites us to use Lent to get ready for Easter: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. That is the spiritual version of cutting our hair and shaving our beard and buying decent clothes. That is the kind of thing we need to be doing if we want to experience the good news of God in Jesus Christ in a new and more powerful way come Easter.
Exactly what kind of spiffing up we need varies for each of us. But all of us have room to grow, so I urge you, in the name of the Church, to use this time well.
Now, many of you have been doing Lent for longer than I, and have plenty of wisdom about what works and what doesn’t work for you.
But here is my experience of Lent.
The first part of the invitation invites us to pratice fasting and self-denial. Ideally fasting can help us to focus our attention on what matters most, to take our attention at least briefly off our own wants and needs and to create a kind of mental space so that we can be more aware of God and of the needs of our neighbors.
Unfortunately, fasting seems to have largely dropped out of contemporary Christian life.
If you stop to think about it, that is a little strange. Fasting has always been part of our tradition. It goes back to Jesus himself, who fasted for forty days in the wilderness at the very beginning of his public ministry. In the gospel reading we just heard, Jesus presumes that his listeners will fast sometimes. The only question is how they should behave while they are fasting.
If anything, you would expect our generation to be more committed to fasting than ever. For most of Christian history, most Christians struggled to get enough food. But today more of us struggle with controlling our intake rather than with getting enough.
So, in my feeble way, I fast during Lent, even if that just means skipping deserts. I encourage you to consider a fast of your own, one that is appropriate to your life and your health.
But the Church invites us to think of fasting more broadly, too. One interesting idea is a “carbon fast.” That is when we try to reduce the amount of power we use by doing things like driving less.
Here at Saint David’s several of us are going on a complaint fast. Every time we complain or say something negative, we are putting aside a little money to donate when Lent ends. I worry I will go broke!
Last year, my most idiosyncratic fast was giving up Sudoku. I was shocked to learn just how much time I spend on Sudoku. I am going on a Sudoku fast again so, as of today(!), I will have several extra hours in my week.
One of the things I like about my Sudoku fast is that I can then use that extra time in more productive ways. One will undoubtedly be to sleep more. I will probably find other ways to kill time too. But I hope to use some of the time freed up by my Sudoku fast in ways that draw me closer to God.
If you feel pressed for time, as so many of us do, I strongly encourage you to consider a Lenten “fast” from something you do that kills time if only to free up some of that time.
The invitation to a holy Lent has suggestions for ways to use that time. We are invited to devote extra time to prayer, and to reading and meditating on God’s holy word. Saint David’s offers lots of opportunities for prayer and Bible study, including a couple of special Lenten options. I hope you will take advantage of some of them, even if it is just for Lent.
But of course you can pray and read the Bible at home just as well. I plan to do two things. I will use one of our Lenten devotionals, which just takes a minute each morning, but gets the day off to a good start.
This year, I also plan to meditate for five minutes before I go to bed at night. That is a new thing for me, and it will probably be pretty challenging. I’ll try it during Lent—starting tonight!—and see how it goes. I’d love to make it an ongoing habit, a regular part of my nighttime prayers. But if it is too burdensome, I’ll drop it when Lent ends.
And that is what I love about Lent. We do some things for the six weeks of Lent to get us ready to celebrate Easter. When Easter comes, the preparation is over, and we can go back to our old habits without guilt. But we can also use Lent to establish some good new habits, and that is even better.
And that is my prayer for us: that this Lent will be a time of true preparation and that we can all use this time to draw closer to Jesus Christ, who opens for us the way to eternal life.
In His name. Amen.