How often do people ask you, ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ Because Easter is not always observed on the same day each year, the start of Lent changes. This year Lent commences on the 26th February. From that moment on it takes us on a six week journey of 40 days to reflect on the time when Jesus was said to have fasted for “forty days and forty nights” in the wilderness, according to Matthew 4:2.
For many Christian denominations Lent will be observed by rituals and traditions focused on penitence, reflection and prayer. Those who recognise the importance of ashing may witness people walking around with the mark of the cross in ash on their foreheads, in observance of Ash Wednesday. The ashes symbolises repentance and mortality and is accompanied with the words; “from dust you came, and to dust you shall return” Genesis 3:19. You may even hear conversations of what people are giving up, and for some who are not familiar with Lent may be wondering, “What do people give up for Lent?” It’s striking that those who may not be of a Christian persuasion take this opportunity, alongside Christians, to give up something, maybe as a challenge or to improve their health and well-being. Whatever the reasons, the season of Lent significantly marks the “March towards Calvary”.
For many, Lent for Christians will be a time of soul-searching, a time of reflection and taking stock of one’s life. It is a time for Christians to imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness. How can we use these 40 days to prepare our hearts as we commence this journey into the wilderness? What do we do during these 40 days to move us from our business as usual to a more spiritually attuned life? Most of us, if truth be told, are out of tune spiritually. Maybe we need to ask ourselves how much time we give to our secular activities that could be reduced and given to such activities like a prayer group, bible study or attending church more regularly.
If we are to move to a more spiritually attuned life, then we need to be honest with God during this season of Lent, that will allow us to work towards transformation by living and imitating Jesus who did radical things. The apostle Paul puts it like this; “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. I am so glad that you always keep me in your thoughts, and that you are following the teachings I passed on to you” 1 Corinthians 11. We are to move away from imitating those ways of Jesus that appeal to us and those parts of his life that we will emulate based upon our own sense of what we feel which is really important.
Too often we lose sight of the importance assigned to Lent and make it appear that we are denying ourselves to draw closer to God. In fact, what happens is that we become too familiar during this period and find it a struggle to commit ourselves in meeting the grade that Jesus calls us to be as his disciples. God’s love for us is unconditional, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ John 3:16. Let us make the effort and not forget the ultimate price that was paid by Jesus, as we journey towards Easter together.