The word Lent comes from the old English, lencten, which means spring. In Middle English is derived the words, lenten, lente, lent; related to the Dutch, lente, the German, Lenz, also rendered spring. In Old German are found the related words: lenzin, lengizin, and lenzo, which probably come from the same root as long and referring to the lengthening days, as the earth moves from the winter solstice toward the spring equinox.
In the Christian Church, Lent refers to the period of abstinence preparatory to the Feast of Easter. There are 40 days between Lent and Easter. This coincides with the 40 days that Moses spent in the wilderness and the 40 days of testing that Jesus went through in the wilderness. Lent is similar to the season of Advent. In Advent we anticipate and remember the coming of our Messiah to our world as a baby. In Lent we anticipate the death of Christ, anticipate and remember the resurrection of Christ at Easter. Both seasons are a time of anticipation and preparation in the church. As the Psalmist says, my soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchmen wait for the morning; more than the watchmen wait for the morning. (Psalm 130:6)
Lent is not a time for guilt trips. It is a time though for anticipation and preparation for Easter. It is a time of soul-searching in Christian tradition, but it is not a time for soul-damning. Sometimes the church gets confused with soul-damning and soul-searching.
When we come before God it is not a time for terror and fearful intimidation. It is a time for fearless inventory, a time to take a look at our lives. It is a time to allow the Spirit to cut away those things in our lives that will separate us from the freedom and right relationship with God. It is not a time for damnation.
It is a time for hope, a time to make room for more of God in your life. In order to make room, we also need to take inventory. When we take inventory, it is good to get rid of the non-necessary stuff, to throw it out, so we can stock up with more good stuff in our lives. It’s kind of like cleaning out the clutter at spring cleaning. That is a healthy and exciting thing to do in our personal lives and in the life of the church. Spring cleaning is another good definition for Lent. Taking out the old and preparing to bring in the new.
Lent is a time for honest soul searching. Soul-searching is a good thing. It’s a good thing for everyone, not just Christians. Honest reflection does not need to be fearful. We are intended to approach the throne of grace with fearless honesty, to prepare our hearts for the resurrected life in Christ with boldness and anticipation.
Never apologize for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality is the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. Faith means courage. People of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God. Instead we allow God to demonstrate through us, what the Spirit can do. We ask God to remove our fear, and direct our attention to what the Spirit would have us be.
This is how we get rid of the fear in our life. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18) I enjoy the time of preparing for Easter. However, I refuse to use this time as an opportunity to impose guilt trips. That’s not the purpose of Lent. If you want that, you will not find it in my sermons. The Christian life is a journey. We are encouraged to live it in the present as we progress to the future. I close with a quote from the AA Big Book:
Spirituality is a work in progress. Continue, improve and practice. Keep working on it. True happiness is found in the journey, not the destination. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 511)
Year B Ash Wednesday
February 18, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen