4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

An opportune time.

It is helpful to remember first of all that Lent is just as much a part of the church calendar as are Christmas and Easter. Even many churches who do not use of the rest of the church calendar celebrate Christmas and Easter. At Christmas we celebrate God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ to save us, and at Easter we celebrate the victory that comes by Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
The celebrations of Easter and Christmas convey the focal messages of the Christian faith. I am grateful for these seasons and celebrations that give me a strong reminder of how God is saving us in Jesus Christ. They provide a crucial focus for me as a disciple of Jesus, and put the whole church all on the same page. Still, why add Lent into the mix?

One reason, is that if you walk up the stairs into the conference room, over in the education wing, and take a look at the chalkboard; you will notice the Faith Formation is important to us. This phrase is not quite as familiar as if I told you that teaching the youngest children the core stories of the bible is Faith formation. It may not be obvious that the youth group’s participation in the 30 hour famine, while reflecting on Jesus’ time in the wilderness, is faith formation. But that is what it is, even thought he action part might look like Sunday school or sorting out medical supplies at the AIDS medical mission in Lebanon, when we make a connection between what we do and what Jesus might have us do; it is Faith formation.

Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Christian preacher and theologian, liked to say, ‘omnis Christi actio nostra est instructio’—“every action of Christ is for our instruction.” To grow into maturity as disciples of Jesus requires that we attend to the whole life of Jesus, not only to his birth and resurrection. Through Jesus’ whole life among us, God is working to save, to heal, to drive out demons, to teach us, to redeem creation.

And I do have 3 activities that are particular to a Lenten journey to suggest to you, but first I want to remind you that one of the blessings of lent, beyond drawing us closer to God, is that it has the potential at least to draw us closer together.

Whenever you are trying to reach a goal, it is better to do it together. Weight watchers knows this. That’s why they ask you to go to a meeting and get on that scale in front of God and everybody. If you didn’t quite achieve your goal this week, your friends…on the same journey…can help you pick yourself up and take a few more steps in the right direction.

And lent is something more than a pilgrimage of sorts that the faith community goes on together.

Consider our own sinfulness.

For one, Lent urges us to consider our own sinfulness, and at the same time, the wideness of God’s mercy. For such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God’s grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy.

Consider our own mortality.

One of the hardest things I do is to put ashes on the forehead of people I care about and say, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The whole thing is too morose for some.

Yet the ashes are applied in the shape of Jesus’ cross—the only means for escaping the dust of death. When God raised Jesus, he raided death, destroying its power. Jesus’ resurrection marks the death of death and welcomes us into a living hope (1 Pt. 1:3). This is our consolation and joy in the midst of our mortality.

Lent provides an unmistakable opportunity for disciplined reflection on this neglected certainty and God’s radical solution.

Lent asks us to emphasize alms, or giving to the poor.

Long misunderstood as a form of works-righteousness, Lenten fasting is not about scoring points with God, but rather emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others. By temporarily carving away some comforts or conveniences, good gifts from God himself, we hope to de-clutter our hectic lives, allowing us to focus. Fasting is about making space for God. Simple living allows us to reserve time for others while also serving to curb our expenses. It is fitting to allocate these savings, along with other gifts, for charitable purposes, especially directing those funds to the poor and marginalized.

There’s something to be said for following an ancient, universal Lenten custom like this instead of choosing your own adventure. Most of us are not capable of being our own spiritual directors. We don’t have the perspective needed to choose the things that will really change us. (Deep down, we may not even want to change. I like to say, “Everyone wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change.”)

Lent is a time of year to remember that God has seen fit to make us not airy spirits but embodied human beings living in a beautiful, material world. The soul fills the body the way fire fills a lump of coal, and what the body learns, the soul absorbs as well. Spiritual disciplines such as fasting are analogous to weight-lifting equipment. One who uses them in a disciplined way will be stronger, not just when they are lifting weights, but also for every situation they meet.
And so this practice is important, because there will come a time, a harder time to live out you faith, when this practice will make a difference between saying yes and saying no.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad