Lent is a season of preparation and repentance prior to Easter Sunday. In the ancient Church, new Christians were only baptized on Easter Sunday; just as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry (Matthew 4), so those about to make the public step of baptism were asked to fast and prepare their hearts for a life of trusting in and living for Jesus rather than themselves.
Even though we baptize more often than that, we see value in taking a special season to focus on two deep truths of the Christian life:
1. We make way too much of transitory things
The most public practice of Lent is fasting, which is giving up a transitory good to drink deeper of an eternal one.
Because we live in the most materially prosperous society that has ever, ever existed, we're generally out of the habit of telling ourselves "no." We get so absorbed with the things around us - 3+ meals a day, a social media feed, another new pair of shoes - that instead of enjoying them to God's glory, we crave them and think more about them than about God.
Fasting is letting go of one of those goods and giving that time, attention, or emotional energy to God for a season. "Feasting" on God through prayer rather than a sandwich for your lunch break. Reading the Bible when you would normally read a news feed. Memorizing Scripture in the time you'd normally watch Netflix.
Fasting isn't about the giving-up as much as it's about the filling: reminding ourselves that God is even more satisfying than those good things.
We'd invite you to consider some good thing you may be holding to a little too tightly, that you'd benefit from letting go of for this season.
2. We are mortals whose only hope is an immortal God
We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday, which commemorates the fact that, as God says to Adam, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Our culture worships youth to the point of neurosis, but we die, and the Bible tells us that wisdom requires owning that we die. Our life on Earth has an ultimate limit: our existence is bounded.
In Lent, we pay attention to that reality because we should always be looking at life through the lens of mortality. We should ask ourselves, "Is this preparing me to die well? Is this worth hours that I'll never get back? Is this making me more or less ready to meet God as the judge of all creation?"
That would discolor everything we experience in life, were it not for the fact that death is an end, but isn't the end. Instead of diminishing our life now, reflecting on mortality reminds us that the better life isn't on this side of eternity, but on the other one. The happiness there is richer than the happiness here; the virtues there trump the virtues here.
And that future is certain for anyone whose hope is in Jesus. Lent is a 40-day reminder that we're living for a better world than this one.
Jesus' resurrection - the victory over death we mark on Easter Sunday - is the sealed promise that we have hope of a life to come. Lent prepares us to see Easter with all the glory it deserves.
A Lenten Devotional
If you're looking for a Lenten devotional this year, this guide from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York has forty days of Scripture passages, short reflections, and prayers to guide us in preparing our hearts for Easter.