I don’t think I can say it better than our Book of Common Prayer (from the Ash Wednesday liturgy, p. 264):
“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
People often ask me how to observe Lent. “Should I give up ice cream?” I don’t like to give simple “rules” for Lent like no candy, or meatless Fridays. I encourage you to do something that won’t simply be an exercise in self-denial for its own sake, but something that encourages you to “self-examination and repentance.” Perhaps a new time of prayer. Perhaps foregoing some TV program you enjoy for the sake of Bible reading and reflection. Perhaps some new service to another. If you tend to be sedentary, perhaps a walk with some intentional prayer. I think you get the idea.
In this way, it is not just a giving up but a taking up. While self-denial for a season can be helpful, my experience is that real life change comes not from simply denying ourselves some pleasure but from taking on something new. Make this your Lent!
This column appeared in the March 10, 2019 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
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