So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe.” Hebrews 3:1, MSG
Lent is a forty-day season of reflection and preparation in advance of Good Friday and Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Some historians have dated its origins back to A.D. 330. It was a period of intense discipleship training for catechumen (those seeking church membership) in advance of their baptism on Easter morning. Today Lent is a Christian tradition, anchored within the liturgical calendar, based upon Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his earthy ministry. In 2023, Lent begins on February 22nd and ends on April 6th. All across the Christian community Lent is celebrated in various forms with a wide breadth of practices. These practices are designed to focus a disciple’s attention away from the distractions of their environment onto the person of Jesus and his salvific work. Fasting, repentance, self-denial, giving, and works of service are common practices during the Lenten season. Although Lent is not spoken of in Scripture, nor historically a practice of Anabaptist churches, a growing number of Mennonite Brethren have found participation in the tradition to be a welcome exercise of preparing one’s heart and mind for the passion week, myself included.
In several ways Lent is like Advent, both are seasons of waiting and preparation. Both are spaces of expectation for the redemptive revelation of God and his kingdom. Both are gospel moments – supernatural moments – where disciples can become greater participants in the unfolding of the story of God’s grace and love.
Giving-up something is a central tangible element of Lent. Lent is a form of spiritual ‘spring-cleaning’ where a disciple can set aside or discard things from their life that are hindering or distracting them from their walk with Jesus. At the same time, such giving-up creates a void. The wise disciple then needs to take-up something to fill the space. This something can include things like prayer, service or the giving of resources for kingdom ventures. My purpose here is to explore the opportunity of Lent to be more than what we have traditionally known it to be. The following are some reflections I’d like to have you ponder. If you resonate with these contemplations, discern how you can best apply them practically in your sitz-im-leben.
From temporary to everyday.
Lent is forty days in the calendar year. Discipleship is every day of our lives. I believe that the traditional forty days of Lent can become a pattern or inspirational catalyst for everyday discipleship. Can we harness the reinvigorating practice of Lent to fuel a lifetime of discipleship?
From something to everything.
Something is temporarily given-up at Lent as a means to foster spiritual formation into Christlikeness. Discipleship envisions us surrendering ourselves for the sake of Christ for a lifetime (Matthew 10:39). Can we harness the posture of ‘giving-up’ at Lent to fuel on-going acts of self-emptying for the sake of Christ?
From preparation to participation.
Lent is a means of preparing our hearts to appreciate and respond to Christ’s sacrifice upon a Roman cross, an act birthed out of a love for us. Discipleship involves daily participation in the suffering of Christ to not only identify with him, but to deepen our relationship, with him (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 4:10; 1 Peter 4:13). Can we harness the sacrificial transforming attitude of Jesus (which we ponder at Lent) to fuel our own attitude of sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom?
From limited service to servanthhood.
The counsel of Hebrews, “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” is a Lent-focusing text. Lent is a seasonal event that emphasizes reflection upon Jesus, he who came to serve others. Lent provides us a finite space to pour of ourselves into others just as Jesus did. In contrast, discipleship is a lifelong movement from catering to self to Christlikeness. It is a spiritually transformative surrender of a particular self-centered posture to that of being a servant of Christ. It is lifetime of identity and lordship transition – less of me and more of Jesus. Can we harness the focus on Jesus at Lent to fuel a lifelong posture of Christlike servanthood?
Let me finish this article by saying that Lent is a special time in the Christian calendar, as it is in my own spiritual formation. It is an opportunity. Here is the space made available to move us from grace practices that are Lent bound to ones that permeate our everyday discipleship. May the Holy Spirit give us fresh eyes this Lent, a new perspective on how it can become a spiritual catalyst for everyday discipleship.
For further reading: Lent: From Superficial to Supernatural
I’ve come to appreciate Lent’s invitation to reflection, to deep consideration of Christ and the cross, to give up or to take on.” – Dora Dueck