narrative of lent

Lent isn't exactly a new topic on this blog. I've spent time reflecting on Lent for a few years now. Yet each year I find myself drawn to reflect on Lent once more. Not having grown up in a liturgical faith tradition, I feel I'm only beginning to understand the value in of the season.

("Dust to Dust" - Linda C. McCray - Christian Seasons Calendar)

My friend Phil, someone with a similar background to myself, recently asked, "Is Lent a good idea?" Phil explores Lent and the implications for an integrated life of discipleship, not simply a 40-day practice of superhuman spirituality. His thoughts got me thinking.

On their "Lent" entry, Wikipedia suggests:
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer - through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial - for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Preparation for Easter is characterized by this practice of spiritual disciplines. At it's worst, however, Lent can easily become a guilt-laden exercise in ascetic futility. Like unattainable New Year's resolutions, Lent exposes our spiritual un-discipline. However helpful or needed a little guilt-induced spirituality can be (I'm not convinced it's helpful at all), we complete Lent even more frustrated followers of Jesus than before.

Plus, think about Easter, our celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death. Really, what's there to be so serious about? Jesus wins, right!?!

If Lent is supposed to be an intentional way of life, one in which we identify with Jesus' journey to the cross, I wonder: does the focus on spiritual disciplines require more?

I made this comment on Phil's post:
I’m learning to appreciate Lent not only in terms of spiritual discipline, although that’s part of it, but also as an intentional focus on the narrative of Jesus’ life. The road to Jerusalem is marked with struggle and pain, yet wrapped in a persistent hope we see in Jesus’ comfort to his disciples and then ultimately, in his resurrection. But if we simply live in Easter-Sunday-mode, we neglect other important aspects of our discipleship journey – “take up your cross” (Mk. 8:34) anyone?
At it's best I think Lent reminds Christians that Easter, and Christmas for that matter, doesn't stand in isolation as the pinnacle event in Christianity. They are pinnacle events, it's true. But without the in-between narrative of Jesus' life and ministry, the good news of Easter has no real-life context. Lent reminds us that Easter is only good news because Jesus identified with human suffering in this world.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16 NIV)

I'm looking forward to the narrative of Lent.


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