Lent is just around the corner so I have been thinking a bit about why the observance of Lent has become important to our family. Here (briefly) are some thoughts on a few aspects that I find especially helpful/significant as we prepare for Easter:
My husband says Ash Wednesday is his favourite holy day. While I don’t think I can quite say that, I do feel that the significance of Ash Wednesday is often underrated. The opportunity for all of us to gather corporately and acknowledge the ‘frailty and uncertainty of human life’ and to mark the ‘penitence of the community as a whole’ (BAS, 282) is unique and frankly counter-cultural. The inclusion of children in this service begins to shape them to acknowledge these realities.
I stumbled upon a short blog post by Carolyn Brown which I think states well the reasons for including children in Ash Wednesday services. As Brown points out, including children in the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds them in a tangible way – primarily through the imposition of ashes – that: A) they belong to God’s people, and B) that we are all – adults and children alike – forgiven sinners. These realizations are both hugely important in the formation of Christ followers. (Brown has more to say in another post as well, if you are interested.)
Lent reminds us of the importance of Easter
The BAS speaks of Lent as a time to prepare for the celebration of our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and to renew our life in the paschal mystery (281). Despite being the highest holy day on the Christian calendar, Easter often gets short shrift in comparision to Christmas. Devoting forty days to prepare for Easter helps to balance this out and deepens the significance and joy of Easter. Similar to Advent, Lent lends itself to more deliberate family time of reading and reflecting on scripture and devotional materials with lenten themes in mind. While I can’t say that our family does this every evening or that every instance we do it’s a ‘rich spiritual time’, I do feel this practice of gathering as a family and providing space for conversation, reflection, and prayer continually reminds us of the season we are in, and that during this time we are preparing for Easter. Lent continues the work begun on Ash Wednesday of acknowledging our frailty and our need for forgiveness. Through this we are led to more deeply anticipate the true joy of God’s ultimate work in the world through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Lent gives us the opportunity to practice fasting and ‘giving things up’
The focus on ‘giving things up’ for the duration of Lent is perhaps the most common and well known aspect of this season. This can of course take different forms, although usually it involves food and/or leisure time activities (chocolate, web surfing, tv, coffee, gossip magazines, shopping, etc.). This practice of abstaining and/or fasting is one of the ways we seek to identify with Christ’s suffering and also exposes how we have filled ourselves with things that are not of Christ (as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us in Jeremiah 2:13). I’ve been thinking about how Lent is a great opportunity for exploring some of the key issues we as North American Christians need to wrestle with. While we all struggle with the knowledge that we have ‘so much more’ than most of the world, Lent brings us back to the root of many of these issues: our dependence on ‘things’ rather than God, our innate selfishness and unwillingness to acknowlege the deep needs of others, and our refusal to sacrifice our wants in order to care for those needs. Lent and the discipline of abstaining provides space for us to ‘do without’ some of what gets in the way of our facing these realities and then to wrestle with and confess what this giving up does in us. Obviously with children this is going to take different forms than it does for us as adults, but I think the discussions that result can be an important step towards shaping our children to consider these issues even if the amount given up is not considered ‘significant’.
As we enter this season of Lent my prayer is that we will take seriously the opportunity to look inside ourselves and allow God to use this time to prepare us well for Easter – to look with joy towards celebrating God’s redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection. That we will take this opportunity, in the words of the BAS, ‘to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God’ (282). Amen.