Gearing up for Lent

I enjoy Lent, an ironic fact that I have agonized over and apologized for in the past. I will not rehash entirely why Lent fills my heart with joy in much the same way that Christmas fills my mouth with bile. Instead, I intend to bask unashamedly in my overwhelming good fortune that, for the second year running now, the Eastern and Western churches will celebrate Easter on the same day.

Why does it matter? Because when we celebrate Easter together, then we observe (for the most part) Lent together. Approximately 1.8 of the 2 billion souls that call on the name of Christ worldwide observe the Lenten season. The rites are different, the mood is different, and certainly the degree of importance is different, but like a giddy child on Christmas morning nothing matters to me except the almost magical wonder of it all. All I see is a time when Christians everywhere cry out in one voice, lamenting their sins and begging for salvation to come. (The best part of all, of course, is that we’ve all peeked at how the story ends. Salvation comes…spread the word.) The whole body of Christ, the church universal, undergoes a collective cleansing–be it moral, ritual, or merely metaphorical. It is like the Christian version of a New Year’s resolution, only instead of resolving to do right for only one day, the Christian struggles with that resolve for forty days participating spiritually in the forty days of struggle that Christ underwent in the wilderness. Even though, as with New Year’s resolutions, we know that all our finite efforts will inevitably fail, we know with equal certainty that our union with Christ and his wilderness struggles will unite us mystical to his equally inevitable and gloriously infinite victory. In a single and singular period of mystical penance, we all set our eyes on our inescapable need for redemption, on the certainty of that redemption, and on our own inadequacy in light of that redemption. We shun all frivolity that we have foolishly embraced as joy and elect to sustain ourselves with nothing more than the thirst for the true and pure joy which awaits us as the Son rises on Easter.

If you are not part of a tradition that observes Lent–or if you are and you simply elect not to observe it–I would like to humbly suggest that you find a way to observe it anyway. You may elect to undertake a traditional fast with all its rigorous and “legalistic” requirements. You may embrace the more modern tradition of setting aside for forty days some sin or even some pleasure as an act of devotion to God. You may simply choose to remember the season and the hundreds of millions who will be observing it with you, to intercede for them and for yourself in your prayers. Whatever it is, I have never dedicated anything to God and regretted having given it up. I have only regretted failing to do so or not doing more. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (Jas 4:10).

However else I choose to observe Lent (and I believe you should “wash your face” when you fast), I will try to make this place a venue for reflection on the season, particularly as it is observed by the Orthodox Church. Beginning tomorrow, I hope to post a quotation from scripture, a quotation from church history, my own reflections, and a prayer on each major holy day in order to give clarity to my own thoughts and hopefully to facilitate the devotions of others.

May God bless you and keep you as you toil for Him, and may He find our living sacrifices pleasing, meager though they are.

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