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The Joy of Lent

February 3, 2015

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

The middle of this month marks the beginning of my favourite Season of the Church year: Lent. The word, “Lent,” is short for “Lenten,” which comes from an old English word, lencten, meaning Spring (literally ‘long day’). If we think of “lengthen” we get the right idea.

Unlike the other great preparatory Season of the Church year, Advent, Lent is mostly free from the distractions and additional burdens of commercialism. With the exception of Easter Eggs, there are few signs in our society of the approach of Easter. “I’m Dreaming of a Green Easter” doesn’t start playing in the malls in February, for example! And so, Lent unfolds almost unnoticed by those who don’t wish to observe it.

If it garners any attention at all, Lent is usually seen as a kind of second shot at a New Year’s resolution, after one has already blown the first one! “What are you going to give up for Lent?” is viewed as the key question. And so it’s regarded mainly as negative. When I mention in conversation that Lent is my favourite Church Season, it sometimes goes over the same as if I said my favourite colour was grey, or my favourite piece of music the Funeral March! I can see the person I’m talking with thinking, “No wonder he wears black so much of the time!” The way some people view Lent, you’d think the lengthening referred to people’s faces!

But those who regard Lent this way miss the whole point of what Lent is actually about. Lent is my favourite Season of the year because it’s all about entering into a time of simplicity and intimacy with Jesus in the wilderness – giving up what is needed to make space for God. For me it’s a time to be drawn closer to God, indeed drawn up into God’s very heart of love.

The passage from Matthew’s Gospel quoted at the beginning of this posting is one of the Readings from Holy Scripture every Ash Wednesday. In it Jesus isn’t just speaking about money, but everything that’s not God! He shares what’s the bottom line of Lent, and indeed all our life. St. Augustine wrote, in commenting on Jesus’ words: “Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure; where your treasure is, there is your heart; where your heart is, there is your happiness.”

The key question for each of us should be, not “What are you going to give up for Lent?” But “What are you hoping to attain from Lent?” The answer needs to be: “God – more of God!” Lent is designed to help our treasure be God.

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The goal of Lent is that God would be more our treasure at the end of the 40 days than God was at their beginning. The focus of Lent is never ourselves or our ‘spiritual disciplines’, but God and God’s love! Lent is all about helping us give ourselves completely to the One who gave himself completely for us.

And so we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, as we’ll end it on Good Friday, with the Cross.

Luke Bouman writes:

The sign of the cross we wear on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is not there only one day a year. It is the cross that is burned on our foreheads by the fire of the Holy Spirit to mark us as God’s own lambs in Baptism. We show it once a year to remind ourselves that we belong to God. We remind ourselves that we die, daily to sin. We remind ourselves that Jesus’ resurrection is our future. We will return to dust, but God is not finished with us. We renew the Baptismal covenant of God in this season of repentance, renewal and rejoicing. We all will be cleansed in the Vigil’s Baptismal Flood.

Lent is all about deepening our relationship of love with our God who loves us enough to die for us, and is so full of life that Easter Sunday bursts forth from Good Friday – about the lengthening not of our faces but of our roots deep in God, and the lengthening of God’s roots deep in us.

Lent helps this happen by inviting us to move away from some of the clutter in our lives to greater simplicity, from some of our distractedness to a clearer focus, from skimming on the surface of life to penetrating the soil and going deep into God’s heart of love.

Lent invites us to make space in our lives to fill with more of God. For example, in Lent we may decide to “fast” from an activity we’ve usually done, and instead replace it by reading a book about our relationship with God, or reading Holy Scripture and praying. We may decide to forego spending an evening in warmth at home to reach out with God’s love by participating in the Coldest Night of the Year walk on Feb. 21. We may give up meals to help us remember those who are hungry, and donate the money saved to the Food Bank. The possibilities are as various and unique as each of us.

To help us deepen our groundedness in God, each year we offer a Lenten Study at St. Paul’s. This year, on Wednesday mornings and evenings throughout Lent, we’ll be exploring the “I am” statements of Our Lord in the DVD Study “The God We Can Know”. Details about this Study are included in this month’s Living Waters’ issue. A trailer about the Study is embedded below.  

Through this Study, our Services of worship, and the other activities in which we’ll be engaging as a Parish family, we have the possibility of a Lent that lengthens our roots in God as never before!

May all of us know the joy of a Lent like this!

As we enter the Season of Lent, I invite us to offer the following prayer together:

O God, we say to you, “Here I am! Imperfect, incomplete, weak and broken, sorrowful and mourning.  Here I am! Sinner and saint all rolled into one.  Here I am! Frightened and needy and uncertain. Here I am! Confessing and repentant, and hesitantly hopeful.  Here I am! In the midst of ashes, cold, wasted, wanting.  Here I am!  Looking for the fire of hope, the fire of forgiveness, the fire of love, the fire of salvation. Mold me, make me, create in a new heart in me.” We come to the altar to make our confession, to receive your promise, to step out in faith that Christ walks with us, that the Spirit will guide us, and that your love for us can rise up from the dark and ashes of Wednesday to become the bright and glorious day of Easter and the burning fire of Pentecost. May it be so for us all. We ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen. (Peter K. Perry, alt.)

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This is adapted from my message for the February issue of Living Waters.

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