5 Purposes of Lent
Ash Wednesday (February 22 this year) marks the beginning of a season in the Church called “Lent” that runs for the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. Though practiced by Christians for centuries, Lent can be confusing and opaque, and may leave you wondering, “What is Lent really about anyway?” To help, let me suggest five purposes for celebrating Lent:
First, Lent provides time to meditate on Christ’s suffering and death. You cannot have resurrection without death, but in our haste to jump to the happy ending, we rush over the immense suffering of Christ on the cross. This Lent, re-read the story of his death slowly. Place yourself in those excruciating hours leading up to his death so as to feel the weight of his sacrifice for you.
Second, Lent begs us to reflect on our own sin. Perennially forgetful creatures, we regularly lose sight of the ways we fall short of the glory of God and the magnitude of the mess and brokenness of our lives. Lent reminds us that not only did we need to be saved (past tense), but we need God to save us from our sin every moment of every day. Pride, selfishness, greed, lust, anger, slander and a host of other sin still battles inside us against the Spirit. Lent refocuses our attention on this reality and encourages you and I to cry out to God daily for his salvation.
Third, Lent reminds us of our mortality. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are the words spoken at a traditional Ash Wednesday service. We tend to overestimate the significance, impact, and length of our lives, when in actuality we are simply dust formed by God that will one day return to the ground. We are like a mist that vanishes, or the grass which withers. This may sound morbid and depressing, but by focusing this Lent on your own mortality, you can be freed from your ego’s crushing weight.
Fourth, Lent trains us to live in simplicity for the sake of Christ and others. Often people “give up” something for Lent, choosing to refrain from chocolate, or deny themselves soda. Lent models itself after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, where he denied himself all comforts, and thus is about self-denial. But it is not asceticism for asceticism’s sake. Rather, Lent is a time to give up comforts, pleasures, and indulgences so that you might focus on God more fully, and love your neighbor more readily. For instance, you could give up TV so you can read your Bible and pray more consistently, or give up your daily Starbucks drink so you could give that money to someone in need.
Fifth, Lent deepens our experience of Easter. You cannot have the good news without the bad news. After we spend these forty days focused on our mortality and sin, Christ’s death for us, and his call for us to deny ourselves to follow him, the good news of the resurrection of Christ (and ours with him!) grabs our hearts and souls fresh again.
With these purposes in mind, I pray this Lent that you will encounter Christ deeply in a new way.
This year, the sanctuary at our San Francisco campus (777 Brotherhood Way) will be open and available to you anytime from 11am-3pm. There will be stations where you can reflect on your sin and Jesus' great sacrifice for you, as well as pastors available to pray for you and spread ashes on your forehead. Plan your visit here.