Why Do This Thing Called Lent?


Today begins the season of Lent.

It’s a time set in the church’s liturgical calendar to draw near to the Lord through reflective prayer, meditation and fasting.

It’s a time to recognize wilderness.

But why do we enter this season?

As a very young Christian, I had disdained such things as Lent, liturgy and the embracing of ancient traditions of the church. They were burdensome and didn’t represent our freedom in Christ. The interesting thing is that, in my very nature of rejecting such practices, I was wholly embracing a particular tradition and pattern. It was a tradition that rejected such practices, but it was still a storied tradition handed down by my predecessors.

Here’s the reality: The life and worship of the church (the whole church) is imbibed with liturgical practices through and through. As Robbie Castleman says in Story Shaped Worship, “Liturgy is the rhythm and design of this worship through which all worshipers join together to please God.” I think he is on to something here when identifying liturgy as “rhythm.” Theses practices are simply the rhythms and storylines created in order to direct our hearts, minds, and even bodies, toward the things of God.

These rhythms are everywhere.

I personally like to speak of rhythms over rituals because many Christians are scared of the word ritual. But the church has set rhythmic practices to walk us through varying seasons and periods of the historic and holistic work of God, all to “set our minds on things above.”

Whether we are in a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Anglican setting (seen as more traditionally focused churches) or whether we are in a Pentecostal, charismatic or non-denominational setting (seen as less traditionally focused churches), we have liturgical rhythms that surround our worship, both personally and collective. We just may not be aware that they are present.

So we enter Lent as part of the Christian rhythmic calendar, ultimately to tell the story of of what God has done and is ultimately doing in Christ. In doing so, we are not trying to separate from the world in which we live. Rather, we are creating space to engage in practices that renew us, shape us and transform us while we humbly interact in our world, a world that bows its knee to power, money, prestige, lust, greed and so much more. We walk this journey showing that there is a better way.

Just as the Israelites, we will walk through a season of wilderness. Just as Christ, we will walk through a season of wilderness.

And as we do so, we will do well to remember that the land flowing with milk and honey is reached through the wilderness; resurrection life is reached through a cross.

I believe Lent provides an opportunity, a rhythmic practice in the church’s life to draw near to Christ in order to be transformed into the image of Christ. This transformation is not just an individual opportunity, but a collective one as well.

Watch the short video below. I watch it at the beginning of Lent each year. It displays the beautiful humanity of Jesus, his solidarity with frail humanity, and ends by showing he is the one who overcomes.


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