Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Lent 2021

The season of Lent begins today, marking the period leading up to Easter.  Lent is 40 days (plus Sundays, which aren't counted), reflecting the 40 days the Lord Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism.  The themes of the season are communicated powerfully in the words spoken to each worshipper at a traditional Ash Wednesday service:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Lent is a time to particularly reflect on our mortality and frailty - we are dust, we are weak, our time is passing.  And Lent is a time to particularly reflect on our sinfulness in the light of our mortality - we will die and stand before Christ, therefore we should repent now.

This year, Lent feels strange.  For starters, at some level I feel like we never really got out of Lent 2020!  Of course we celebrated Easter as well as we were able in the circumstances, but the year since last spring has felt, to me at least, like one long reminder of the Ash Wednesday liturgy: you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Look how frail we are.  See how limited we are, how vulnerable.  These are not bad things to be reminded of - one of the reasons we observe Lent is to remind ourselves of them - but boy, it's been a long year of reminder.

Are we really going to do Lent all over again?

My suggestion is that Lent 2021 is a good time to lean hard into the second theme of Lent: that we are sinners, that we need to repent, that we are clinging to Christ for forgiveness, that we are dependent on his Spirit to live in faithfulness.  I think there is a danger that in the midst of the pandemic, with its accompanying loss of freedoms and pleasures, we could recognise our frailty and seek God for help, but forget our sinfulness and neglect to seek God for mercy.  What I mean is that the big problem right now seems to be disease, and the big need seems to be deliverance from disease (and the painful precautionary measures taken to prevent the spread of disease).  But Lent could be a good reminder to us that the Big Problem - the problem that is really insurmountable for us as human beings - is sin and guilt.  There are no vaccine programmes or treatments for this one.  Only the Lord in his mercy can help us here.

Customarily, Christians have observed Lent by fasting and self-examination.  Fasting means temporarily giving up something which is good and lawful, in order to pursue that which is better.  Perhaps you want to fast this year - perhaps in particular it would be good to remind ourselves that we can voluntarily give up good things because Christ is our Great Good Thing.  But perhaps this has felt like a year long fast and giving up something else now feels like too much.  I can understand that.  So maybe this is a time for self-examination.  To ask ourselves - and perhaps each other - some hard questions about what we really value, what we're really trusting, where our hope is.  At CCC, our preaching series will take us through the Ten Commandments as a way of helping with that.

All that being said, let's not forget Christian liberty.  None of us is under any obligation to do anything for Lent, except the ongoing and joyful obligations to trust the Lord and love one another.  Maybe the way you need to mark Lent 2021 is by simply allowing yourself to rest in the grace of the Lord Jesus after a hard year.  And that, too, will be a good preparation for celebrating the resurrection at Easter.

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