Spiritual Renewal in Lent
Since the earliest days of the church Christians have prepared to mark the passion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus with a season of penitence and fasting called Lent before the celebration of Easter. Although this can manifest as a bit banal in a kind of “giving up chocolate for Lent and so I can lose a few pounds” way, a commitment to spend a few weeks fasting and preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Christ can have profound spiritual value.
There are 3 things in particular that make this communal fasting valuable.
Firstly it is slow. In Lent we dwell and linger in a season of repentance and lament. We don’t rush forward to breakthrough productivity or victory. We take time to listen to the Lord and walk with him closely and intimately, opening ourselves to his pruning sheers.
Secondly Lent is embodied and spiritual at the same time. By fasting from something and embracing the physical ashes of Ash Wednesday we acknowledge that our lives are more than the sum of our thoughts and feelings. The body keeps the score, the deepest kind of knowing is more than mental. It is embodied, it is spiritual and intellectual. And so a prolonged season of fasting connects spiritual truths with our lived lives, incarnated in families, communities and nations.
Thirdly Lent is a time of honesty. We will experience lament and frustration in the Christian life. It will not always feel like victory unto victory. But we follow a suffering saviour, a servant king who is with us intimately in weakness, sorrow, loss and tears.
Marking Lent can be a way of taking to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel in an embodied and physical way.
On Ash Wednesday we may wear a mark our foreheads with a cross in ash remembering that as human beings we were created from the dust of the earth. The Anglican liturgy calls this “a sign of our penitence and a symbol of our mortality.” But the cross is also a sign of hope – that in our lament over the sin, brokenness and death in this world there is also grace, for through Jesus we receive eternal life that no fire, no disintegration, no suffering can taint or spoil.
Today at the beginning of Lent why not join with other Christians around the world and reflect on the dust of death and the truth that Jesus came into this world, an embodied Saviour for us, to suffer with and for us, and to bring us to glory that is as real as the granular dust you can touch today.