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The first Sunday in the Lenten season is March 5th.
A Lenten message from Fr. Chris:
During Lent it is customary to "give up" something, such as chocolate or alcohol, or the like. Or, what has become more in vogue these days is that we "take on" something, like an outreach project, or a fruit of the Spirit, such as being more kind, or patient, or some such.
While these ideas may be of value, provided they are approached in the right way, I would caution us that Lent is principally neither about what we ourselves decide give up, nor what we ourselves decide take on, for the very point of Lent is about what Jesus has given up and what Jesus has taken on and why He has done it.
Let me explain a little further.
The reason Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days was to succeed where Israel failed. In other words, God banished Israel to 40 years of wandering in the desert during their Exodus journey out of bondage to slavery in Egypt to the land God had promised them because of their disobedience against God. But, it was not just "the people" who were disobedient to God, Moses also "struck the rock" in his anger against the people. For this sinful act, God did not allow him, the spiritual leader of the Israelites, to enter the Promised Land, either. So, in addition to the people being disobedient to God, so also was their spiritual leader, Moses, disobedient. For further study on this, read Numbers, chapters 14 and 20.
These temporal truths of the Old Testament find their full and final fulfillment in the New Testament as Jesus, fully God and fully man, did not disobey God in his desert season. Instead, He succeeded where Israel and Moses failed, winning an initial victory against Satan and manifesting himself to be the true Savior of the world, delivering us out of our spiritual bondage and slavery to sin and death. And, by his act of mercy, wooing and calling us, the New Israel (the Church), even empowering us by his own Holy Spirit, to a new life of obedience in him and the hope of everlasting life with him.
Therefore, beloved, the whole point of Lent is not that we can somehow "pull ourselves up by our own moral boot straps" for 40 days, either by giving up a vice or taking on a virtue, as if we are training to run a marathon one year, and taking the glory of our accomplishment to ourselves, only return to relative couch potato status in the next. We can't. This is a major point of the Exodus narrative. We cannot achieve righteousness before God by our own works. Rather, the purpose of Lent is that we allow Jesus to prove victorious in our lives in whatever way He wants to deliver us from bondage to sin and death into glorious light and life.
Of course, this requires surrender. Are you willing to surrender both what YOU might want to give up and/or what YOU might want to take on this Lent so that God may work what HE wants in you to reveal his victory and his greater glory through you? Lent may seem much "riskier" lived this way, at least according to the flesh, but let me assure you that, according to the Spirit, it is infinitely more rewarding. Lived this way, we neither become like one who either runs a marathon one year only to become a couch potato the next year, nor will we one day find ourselves among those who can no longer run a marathon due to injury and/or age. Rather, when we surrender to the God of the Desert, even Jesus Christ, and truly surrender him, we can be sure that we are "changed from glory into glory" as St. Paul says in II Corinthians 3:18.
Accordingly, I am writing this article a week before Ash Wednesday so that each of us will have time to spend with the Lord in preparation for a truly holy Lent, where we have neither given something up nor taken something on to say that we can, but so that we might allow the Lord of Love to minister to our deepest places of hurt, need, disappointment, rejection, and abandonment and/or to equip and empower us to break through our fears of living a more evangelical, missional, ascetical, and otherwise devoted life.
Over the next week, in preparation for Ash Wednesday and the observance of a Holy Lent - and perhaps through Lent, if you are so led by the Spirit - I invite each of us to daily read and meditate upon Psalm 139.