by Aaron Cloud
This winter in South Dakota was long and seemingly unrelenting. Spring felt like a distant hope as we navigated the cold, dark winter days. In many ways, the rhythm of the seasons provides a powerful reminder of the God we serve, and His redemptive work on our behalf.
This month, we entered a season in the Church’s calendar known as Lent. The term Lent comes from an old Anglo Saxon word, lencten, which means spring. In historical Christian worship, Lent referred to the 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter.
Traditionally, these 40 days before Easter were a time of intense preparation for new believers who would be baptized on Easter Sunday. This preparation involved prayer, fasting, reflection, and anticipation of the coming baptism. The 40 days of Lent also commemorate Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert, mentioned in Matthew 4:1-11. Today, Christians continue to observe Lent as a season of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when, in some practices, ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christian believers. The ashes have two key symbolic elements. First, in Scripture, ashes are a symbol of repentance and mourning—a reminder of our sinfulness before God. Second, ashes are a symbol of our mortality. In an Ash Wednesday service, ashes are applied to a person’s forehead, accompanied with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So, let’s go back and think about the rhythm of the seasons I mentioned previously. Winter is a time when the world experiences a sort of death. Trees, plants, and fields lie fallow as vegetation dies off or goes dormant. Later, spring—and the refreshing rains that come with it—bring a time of restored and renewed life. In the dark depths of winter, the hope of spring is anticipated... hoped for... longed for.
Similarly, in Lent, we’re reminded of our sinfulness, and the death sin brings. We’re reminded of our need of a Savior, and we’re reminded of Jesus’ brutal death on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. However, in the season of Lent, when we practice prayerful reflection, we also cultivate a deep sense of hope and anticipation, as we look toward Easter and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. With the renewal of life in spring, we’re reminded that we serve a God Who brings life where death reigned—Who conquered sin through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
How might we engage this Lenten season in a meaningful way? Here are some practices to consider.
Fasting: Fasting means denying one’s self for the purpose of focusing on spiritual connection with God. We give up something we enjoy, in order to focus that time on cultivating an awareness of God’s presence. Fasting also cultivates anticipation as we look toward Easter, when we will again engage in that which we gave up for Lent. Believers might choose from a wide range of things to fast from, such as food, social media, sweets, etc.
Reflection on sin and death: Lent is a time to reflect on our lives and our spiritual condition. We might ask ourselves questions such as, Where is sin still present in my life? or What areas have I not surrendered to God?
Reflection on Jesus’ death on the cross: Lent is a season in which we’re reminded that our sins bring about serious consequences. As we focus on Jesus’ crucifixion, we appreciate the gravity of the lengths God will go to on our behalf, and the sacrifice He deemed necessary to save us before we even knew Him.
Anticipation of the Resurrection: Lent is also a season in which we look forward to the resurrection of Christ on Easter. The Resurrection is the great hope of our faith—knowing Jesus not only died for our sin, but rose again so we may be alive in Him, conquering sin and death for eternity.
Prayer and reading: Lenten observance often includes intentional moments of prayer and daily Scripture readings, as a way of focusing our reflection on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
How are you engaging in prayerful reflection this Lenten season? As we wade through the last, waning days of winter, slogging through the cold and dark, and as we experience a longing for spring and warmth, may this anticipation be a reminder of our spiritual life—that when we were dead, God brought us life! And may we have a deepening desire to walk in relationship with Jesus, as we look forward to celebrating His resurrection on Easter.
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, an early preacher, wrote a sermon on the Gospel of John, which reads in part:
“The text, ‘God so loved the world,’ shows such an intensity of love. For great indeed and infinite is the distance between the two. The immortal, the infinite majesty without beginning or end loved those who were but dust and ashes, who were loaded with ten thousand sins but remained ungrateful even as they constantly offended Him. This is who He ‘loved.’ For God did not give a servant, or an angel or even an archangel, ‘but His only begotten Son.’ And yet no one would show such anxiety even for his own child as God did for His ungrateful servants… He laid down His life for us and poured forth His precious blood for our sake.”
“How Do You Observe Lent?” https://www.wesleyan.org/how-do-you-observe-lent-6102
“Mark: A Devotional for Lent” https://resources.wesleyan.org/mark-devotional-lent