Lent always sneaks up on me. It seems like I just catch my breath after Christmas and the New Year, and I’m cruising through Epiphany, then — wham! — there are ashes on my forehead. Lent is a cold splash of water in the face on a winter morning. Suddenly I’m awake and tingling. The narrow road from Galilee to Jerusalem opens up before me, and I can make out three crosses on the horizon.
Lent requires a mental shift. Preparing our souls for the celebration of Easter is no party. The Scriptures get darker; the songs shift to minor keys; the sermons have more challenge. There is a Lenten state of mind, and frankly, I’m glad when it comes. I need the wake-up call. I need the encouragement to go deep in my faith. I need to pay attention to some things I may have forgotten.
Lent calls me to REPENTANCE. Historically, Lent was the home stretch for converts to Christianity as they prepared for baptism on Easter. It was a time for cleansing the soul before the cleansing water of grace covered them. In Lent, we feel the weight of our sin. That is uncomfortable, and it is antithetical to our permissive culture. But the first response to the Gospel is clear in the teaching of Jesus: “The Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!”
Repentance is personal, for all the ways I have turned my back on God and others. Repentance is also corporate, for the state of the church, for our culture of violence, for the abuse of women and children, for our lack of hospitality toward the poor, the stranger and the foreigner in our midst, to name a few. For many reasons, we need to come clean with God.
Lent helps me reclaim DISCIPLINE. Prayer, giving alms, and fasting are the ones Matthew suggests, and they are good ones. It helps my soul to feel the pinch of hunger during Lent, or even the disappointment of refusing dessert. It reminds me what is really important. Being a follower of Wesley, it’s all about practicing the methods of the Christian life. As I try to align my life with God, discipline puts boundaries around my scattered activities.
Often we think about Lenten discipline in a negative way, “giving up” for Lent. I like to think of disciplines in a positive way, adding for Lent. More prayer time, more Scripture reading, attending church more often, increasing your giving, trying a new experience of service in a community mission — try positive ways to find alignment with the divine.
Most of all, my Lenten state of mind is one of GRATITUDE. The older I get, the more I appreciate the oft-repeated but never-old story of the passion of Jesus. His words, his actions, his heart — I never cease to be amazed and inspired. What he endured on my behalf reduces me to tears. The incredible love God has for me and for all of us on this planet fills my heart with thanks. God is so good. As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus during Lent and make our way toward Calvary, our gratitude fills us with awe. What God has done gives us strength and faith and hope and courage. That’s why I look forward to Lent.
All around us we see signs of spring. The winter (mostly) is gone. New life springs up all around. Grass greens; daffodils wave their yellow heads; dogwoods bloom; warm breezes blow. I think God knew that Easter needed to come in the spring, because all the earth proclaims the Gospel. I hope through your Lenten state of mind — repentance, discipline, and gratitude — you will find new life as real as the empty tomb and as happy as a gorgeous spring day!
The Rev. Dr. Reeves serves as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, Fort Smith. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.