Many of you know that today is Ash Wednesday. In the Christian tradition, this day marks the beginning of Lent, which is the forty-day period leading up to Easter Sunday. The church began celebrating the season of Lent as early as 325, although it has only been in the fairly recent past that many Baptists have gotten in on the party. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the season, one of the central aspects of Lent is giving something up, or fasting, as a way to journey with Jesus to the Cross, culminating with our greatest celebration on Easter Sunday. Some of the more common things you hear about are people giving up chocolate, alcohol, or coffee. Others will choose to abstain from social media or television. Whatever a person chooses to give up, it is incredibly important to realize that the entire purpose of the fast is to draw closer to God. It doesn’t earn you brownie points with Jesus because you have chosen a more difficult fast than your friends. No, the goal is to find yourself in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ over the course of this season, and hopefully afterwards as well.
For example, if you want to give up using your iPhone for any other purpose than making phone calls (an arduous goal to say the least), then think about how you can use the time spent on Instagram to better connect with Christ. Instead of scrolling through Facebook on your phone, maybe you spend those moments connecting with actual flesh and blood human beings (which will also help you better connect with Christ). Instead of texting on the eleven-person group chat that you don’t know how to leave, why don’t you spend an extra ten minutes in silence, listening for echoes of the Divine voice.
This year, I have chosen my fast. I am ready to journey with Jesus. But I have to be honest with you, I usually fail miserably on my Lenten abstinence. Each year, I set a noble goal with the full intent of spending more time in prayer instead of wasting it on other things. For the first few days, I am motivated and all-in. Yet as the days wear on, the Manhattan seems to taste better and the Instagram stories are more pressing. At some point, I give up and I give in to the temptation. Yep, I usually end up sitting on my couch with a mouth full of chocolate and a conscience full of failure. If you are anything like me, then you know how that feels.
It is in moments like those that we have to remember something. Lent isn’t really about you. Your failure to keep a fast doesn’t determine how you relate to Jesus. Drinking a Diet Coke doesn’t lessen the love that God has for you. At its best, Lent can lead us into deeper relationship with God, but even then, it doesn’t change how God sees you, and that’s really good news. Lent is about journeying to the empty tomb, because it is there that we really see what the forty days of Lent are intended to show us. These forty days are to remind us that love is stronger than hate and that death will always be defeated by life. They are designed to prepare our hearts for our greatest celebration, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
My greatest hope for you as you journey through Lent is that you are preparing your heart, and your life, for a celebration. Let this Ash Wednesday prayer from Walter Brueggemann echo in your conciousness on this day,
“On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you-
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless in your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.”
Grace and Peace,