“I invite you therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent”
1979 Book of Common Prayer p. 265
In just a few days I will have speak these words to the congregation. It is one of my favorite lines in the Ash Wednesday service. It reminds me that as a representative of the Church, and as a fellow sinner, God invites each and every one of us to turn back to him and to experience his love and mercy. God’s love is never coercive. We are invited into a relationship. We are invited to take a good look at our lives and see where we have erred so that we can get back on the road God has in mind for each of us.
How do we observe a Holy Lent? It really is not difficult. The Prayer Book tells us that through self-examination, repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, our efforts will be blessed and we will find ourselves in a deeper more meaningful relationship with God. I would like to take a brief look at each of these:
Self-examination is the first necessary step. We must look at our lives and our relationships not so that we can beat ourselves up over our failings, but to get back in touch with the mercy and love of God and to be able to enter into a newer and deeper relationship with God and the world. We can look at ourselves honestly because we are assured that no matter what we find, God has forgiven and redeemed us. Self-examination is not something to be feared but something to be embraced.
Repentance means a change of heart or direction of one’s life. It is a turning away from those things that would put themselves in place of God. When we turn away from the things that separated us from God’s love, we turn back to God and make God and our relationship with God the primary focus of our life. To repent means to want what God wants for us more than what we want for ourselves.
Prayer is not only our talking to God, but also (and more importantly) listening for what God has to say to us. There are many different ways to pray and it can be an exciting journey to try many different types of praying and finding what type of prayer brings you closer to God. Being quiet and being attentive to the Holy Spirit can take time and practice, but it is a spiritual discipline that all Christians should take the time to cultivate. When we quiet the chaos of our lives we are better able to listen.
Fasting is not just fasting from food but can also be a fasting from those more base emotions that take us away from God and each other. It could be a fasting from pride, jealousy, gossip, and anger. A friend many years ago told me that she was going to fast from unkind comments about anyone. She would catch herself and replace the comment she first thought of with one grounded in love and charity. This particular Lenten discipline made a huge difference in her life and in those who were in relationship with her. She stated she found humility, kindness and a calm she didn’t think she would ever possess. Her life was literally never the same.
Self-denial is not something we are very good at. But to deny ourselves is to put another first and that is what Jesus did with us. It is to draw closer to Jesus because we emulate his example of service and love. Self-denial is a biblical requirement for followers of Jesus. It is learning to submit (another word we don’t care for!) to God’s will and to give up our own will, knowing that what God has for us is what we really need.
Reading and meditating on God’s Word is being willing to take the time and make the effort to study scripture and how it might speak to us today. Time and time again I have been told by people that when they take the time to do this they are amazed at seeing things they had never seen in the text before, or that different parts of scripture stood out at different points in their lives and it was exactly what they needed at that time. Reading and meditating on God’s Word deepens our relationship with God and one another.
My hope for all in the congregation is that this will indeed be a holy Lent; one that we will never forget and for which we will always be grateful.
I wish you Lenten blessings,