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Lenten Reflections

POSTED: March 16, 2012 7:00 a.m.

One of the great traditions of the Christian church (for those of us who honor them) is the season of Lent. 
No, it’s not in the Bible. Jesus is not recorded as saying, “Every year after I die, you will spend the 40 days before the anniversary of my resurrection (not counting Sundays) in a time of confession, penitence and mourning.” 
No, he didn’t say that. 
But there are lots of things Jesus did not say — like “It’s OK to substitute Wonder Bread for the unleavened loaf of Passover.” 
Or, “It’s just fine to use grape juice instead of wine.” 
Or, “My birthday is Dec. 25, which you will not be able to understand or celebrate until the Gregorian calendar is invented, hundreds of years from now.” 
What Jesus didn’t say has never stopped us from doing spiritual things and Lent is one of those spiritual things.
Lent never gets as much attention as Christmas, which is really odd. Advent and Christmastide, supposedly seasons of giving, in our culture have turned into seasons of get, get, getting. Yet, according to everyone I speak to, Christmas remains “the season of giving.”  Hmmm.
On the other hand, Lent is the very opposite. Though on the surface, it appears that Lent is all about give, give, giving (as in “giving up something of ourselves”), Lent is really a season of getting — getting our lives back in order, getting our priorities straight, getting into the right relationship with our God. And it IS about the getting that we call “personal gain”!  It’s about getting a new attitude, getting a new way of living, getting back to God.
Ironically, the only way we can do that is by giving. 
Like Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days (do we get it?), we need to give up those things that are pushing us in our lives: our false pretenses, our little deceits, our pettiness, our greed, etc. — and look for the Spirit. We need to deeply ponder what it is that we are meant to be, and how far short of it we have fallen. We need to simplify our lives “to the bone,” in order to see that which is worth living for. 
Forty days fasting in the wilderness after his baptism helped Jesus to see his way into three years of ministry and a Cross.
Now, 40 days without food and water IS scientifically do-able, and was considered a spiritual discipline among Jews of Jesus’ day.  Jesus doesn’t particularly recommend it for each of us, but he chose to try it himself. And here’s why.
When you give up, truly give up, things that you think you need, you find out how little you really DO need. 
What Jesus learned was to trust God in all things, and to trust God’s Holy Word. What he learned, by giving up even food and water, was that God DOES take care of us.  We can trust God to provide — in fact, God already has provided! 
I love that Jesus learned it —really learned it, and didn’t just recite it as a rote lesson. He got it. 
Lent doesn’t require all of us to fast like Jesus did, in the middle of a desert — although there have, over the years, been many pious folk who followed Jesus’ footsteps in that direction.
No, Jesus didn’t say, “You shall remember Lent and keep it holy.”
But all of us who experience the deep joy of Easter cannot help but know how much we do not deserve that joy. We have not obeyed our Lord in all things. We have “fallen short of the glory of God,” as Paul says. 
Lent reminds us that though we know God forgives us, it doesn’t mean we ought to dismiss for ourselves our sinfulness. We do that, you know — we box it up, put it in a corner, and forget about it.  We assume that what we refuse to acknowledge, God won’t know. 
But our God is a lot bigger than that nonsense. 
The season of Lent is our reminder that we have an awesome God, who knows everything. It’s our reminder that we all DO have those boxes in our closets, and it would be good to open them up, and air them out, and get our cleaning done — so when Easter does arrive (when the Promise is fulfilled), we can celebrate with hearts that are open to understand as fully as humanly possible what Jesus did for us. 
God give each one of us a holy Lent!

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