Contrary to the popular understanding that Lent is Latin for “time-to-mope-and-sing-hymns-about-sin-in-a-minor-key,” the word lent actually means spring. It is a time of renewal and new life! Lent is a time in the church year during which we are encouraged to slow down and dig deep, to be mindful of our spiritual lives, reflective about our relationships with God and God’s world. The idea is that such a period of intense focus will result in a richer, more vibrant faith.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day for remembering that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God, and that everything except God is perishable. The 40 days that follow (not counting Sundays) are invitations for us to explore that concept more fully. We are helped by the liturgical color for Lent: purple. Purple traditionally signifies repentance (i.e., making a u-turn), an action that can spring from self-examination. I hasten to point out, however, that purple is also the color of the first crocuses whose arrival, in this climate, mark the move from the starkness of winter into nature’s lush rebirth.
Many people “give up something for Lent.” Why? Ancient spiritual disciplines like fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and Scripture reading are designed to nurture our spiritual lives, to create space for the Holy Spirit to blow through us. Some people find that this sort of intentional re-prioritizing their time and resources calls their attention to what is essential and what is extra in their lives. Lenten disciplines provide a different point of view, an alternative way to notice the presence of the Holy Spirit in our busy lives.
Often, instead of giving up something for Lent, I make a habit of taking on something for Lent. For example, I might add an extra hour or half-hour of prayer or devotional readings to my day—thereby also limiting my Facebook time. One year I wrote checks to different social service agencies each week in Lent, while cutting back on little luxuries like scented candles and lattes. Perhaps your family might covenant to doing a Lenten discipline together—like spending a certain evening of every week reading the Bible aloud or praying together, making extra financial contributions to the work of the church, or visiting people who might be lonely or ill. These kinds of practices help us to be mindful of and grateful for what God has given us to share.
I hope that you will consider attending Wednesday worship, not as a substitute for Sunday morning worship service, but in addition to them. I know additional worship services involve an additional time commitment—which might mean that for a few weeks, you will have to let go of something else you usually do—but there is something holy about journeying through Lent with a community of believers that cannot be found any other way. Our Lenten worship services (on both Wednesdays and Sundays) are shaped to draw us close to the cross, and to strip away anything that distracts us from it.
And yet, at the end of the day, whether you take on a Lenten discipline or not, whether you change your worship patterns or not, Easter will come. As always, God will come seeking you, longing to bring new life to you. The power of Love over fear, Joy over anxiety, and Peace over distress will come, whether or not we hold vigil toward its arrival. Even in Lent, everything is still all about God’s grace.