Lent is one of the important preparatory seasons of the Christian calendar. It has been set aside as a time of self-examination, and a time where we are encouraged to ponder our relationship with God. It encourages us to pause and remember God’s transforming love for the world. It is also a time to ponder on what God is calling us to do as faithful Christians. How are we to live as disciples? How are we to treat the earth, ourselves, and our neighbours? In what ways can we continue to be church in an increasingly secular society? Do we have the obedience Jesus showed, in being prepared to open ourselves to the presence of the living God, and to listen for the guidance of the spirit? As disciples charged with picking up our cross and following Jesus, are we prepared to endure the inevitable hardship and discomfort we will encounter along the way? Most importantly, do we have the courage to allow ourselves to be truly transformed by our Lenten journey?
Lent has traditionally been a time for abstaining from excesses, a time for examining our lives and the lives our Christian communities, and a time to think of those who suffer hardship and poverty in our world. By doing these things, we pick up on the three traditional disciplines of Lent, fasting, alms giving and prayer, that were to be practiced as part of the soul’s preparation for the journey through Holy Week. Lent can be a powerful journey of penitence, spiritual discipline, and preparation for the experience of Holy Week.
One of the things I frequently hear as a minister from congregational members is the statement “I am too busy to do these things”. And it is true that purposefully entering a period where creative, transforming and spiritually challenging things can happen is a difficult thing to make time for. But when we neglect our spiritual life, our spiritual health declines and our relationship with God can suffer. The voice of the spirit grow fainter, and we can start to lose sight of our calling as the people of God. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, once famously said, when asked how he found time to pray in his busy schedule: “I am too busy to pray for less than two hours a day.” (Source: Interview with Rowan Williams in the BBC-programme “Something understood”)
Taking the time to embrace the practices of Lent, and to seek to transform through metanoia (commonly translated as repentance) is vital if we are to evolve as Christians, and as a church. Embracing the concept that we might have to change, though, is rather unpopular in our world today. Metanoia requires nothing less than a change of heart and mind that results in a new course of action. It requires us to do the slow, hard work of reflection and assessment of ourselves, our church, and our world, reflection that can lead to new vitality and new behaviour. Metanoia allows us is to release what no longer works, or what is holding us back, and embrace new and effective and creative ways of being.
May your journey through Lent remind you once again of your faith, and of your calling as a disciple of Jesus. Thanks be to the God of infinite grace who forgives our sin and offers us hope.