I was not raised in a church culture that practiced Lent. Easter was always much anticipated, and I remember so many wonderful ways in which we shared the joy of Christ’s resurrection. There was inspirational music, beautiful flowers, and delicious food. But as I moved through life and ministry, I found that there was something helpful about a “season of preparation.” I have come to value a practice of Lent in which Christians contemplate and prepare their hearts for those days when we commemorate Calvary and rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus.
In the traditional church calendar Lent comprises the weeks between Ash Wednesday (February 17) and Good Friday (April 2). It is also traditional that believers give up something for the period of Lent. This commemorates the forty days of fasting that Jesus experienced in the wilderness. And it is a way of at least attempting to appreciate the self-lessness of Christ, who exchanged the glory of heaven to serve humanity on this earth.
As we launch into Lent this year, some may feel they are already living sacrificially. Many of the basic privileges we enjoy such as family gatherings or attending worship have been taken from us by pandemic restrictions. But even if you plan to restrict yourself further this Lent, I have a more basic question than “what are you going to give up?” Recently I was pondering a phrase from Isaiah 45 which is repeated throughout the chapter: “I am the Lord; there is no other God.” This speaks of God’s unrivaled power and authority. He is the originator and owner of all that is! So, I have been pondering what it is in our lives to which we feel entitled? If we really believe that God is who He says He is, then I can be rather presumptuous to “give up” what is not mine in the first place. In other words, our sense of self-sacrifice is directly related to what we believe belongs to us.
COVID-19 conditions have certainly exposed entitlement. It could be something quite simple, such as the person who believes it is their right to remain mask-less. A few weeks ago, a couple from the Vancouver area traveled to a tiny Yukon town and posed as local workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. We might wag our heads at such people, but Christians have even become entitled as followers of Jesus. We have become focused on human rights and have forgotten that we have given our hearts and lives to God to be fully at His disposal. Instead, think about the way Jesus was willing to take on the very nature of a servant, as Paul described in Philippians 2:6-11. And let us heed Paul’s command, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus!” (v.50)
If fasting from food helps you, I would encourage you to do so safely (practical guidelines for fasting). There are many other kinds of “fasts” you can experience…just be sure that God is the focus. Below are readings from the book of Mark which document the final phase of Jesus' mission to redeem humanity. Each week please read the passage carefully and prayerfully. Ponder anew God’s love expressed in the life, ministry, and suffering of Jesus. During Lent, you are invited discover shifting from everyday concerns to enjoying God’s presence – a privilege purchased by Jesus sacrifice. It is a time to think deeply about all that Jesus sacrificed out of love for us. As we read in I Corinthians 5:7-8, “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore, let’s celebrate the feast!”
February 17 Mark 8:27-38 Jesus Predicts His Death
March 3 Mark 10:32-45 Jesus Came As A Ransom
March 10 Mark 11:1-11 Jesus’ Arrival In Jerusalem
March 17 Mark 14:1-11 Jesus Anointed At Bethany
March 24 Mark 14:12-26 The Lord’s Supper
March 31 Mark 14:27 Denial, Arrest, And Trial
Good Friday Mark 15:1-47 Jesus’ Suffering And Death