By Pastor Larry Booth
Congregational Church, Grant
What is Lent? (It’s not in the Bible, you know.) Lent, the word, is short for Lenten, which is simply the name for the longer days of springtime, which follow the short, cold days of winter.
Nothing particularly sacred about it, except as it became the word attached to the 40 days of fasting preceding Easter for many Christians.
There is some evidence that Lent started in the sixth century in Gaul–the ancient territory of France and Belgium. Why it started there is a good question. But why it was started at all is a better one, and not easily answered.
Lent ash-anointing and fasting quickly became widely practiced and was supported by the priests as a practice of Christian discipline, a public penance for serious sinners and sinning. Ashes on the forehead made the confession public–so everyone knew! The fasting was for punishment and cleansing. A primitive form of public ash anointing, indicating “you’re looking at an unclean person,” goes back many thousands of years in the faith of ancient Israel.
In our times, more and more Christians are taking advantage of Ash Wednesday anointings, but often as not as a declaration of “believer” more than announcing “here’s a sinner.” Seldom is there serious suffering in our fasting and in the resulting temptations.
Our model for the Forty Days of Lent is Jesus and his retreat into the desert to pray, when the prayer retreat became a major confrontation with temptation–with the Tempter!
Few of us seek out such a desert as that. But all of us, as lightly as we may take on the ashes, do get to face the Tempter. We want only the nicer things–our daily bread, our sacred spaces, our personal politics.
Over the ages, we believers have settled into a comfortable faith, always tempted to turn away from a suffering world, whether the suffering be a world of peace or a cup of water. In so doing, we forget who we are. But the Tempter never does.
For Christians, Lent is a gift. It is a convenient, vital time to find that personal desert-quietness in which we can find ourselves fresh... and find perhaps God.
In facing ourselves without reservations, we always experience discomfort. Facing God is always done without reservations, and never without at least the stress we find in facing ourselves. The process is almost the same; the benefit is not.
If we try prayer and feel alone, sensing no “presence” with us (as we might hope to), revisit Jesus in the desert. Perhaps God reaches us best in the desert, if we’re willing to travel.
It is in the inner places of the soul where the Tempter’s power (temptation) is broken... and there we remember who we are.