Since the liturgical calendar commemorates events in the life of Jesus, the forty days of Lent parallel the
forty days our Lord fasted and prayed in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. Implicit in this
season of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus is self-denial, contemplation,
soul-searching, and humility. Lent calls on us to turn from wrong-doing and selfindulgence
to self-conscious discipleship, seeking to live as Jesus taught us to live. Lent is
less about victorious living and more about somber remembrance of our Lord’s sacrifice of
himself to save us.
Traditionally, Christians “give up” something pleasurable as a symbolic act of taking
up our cross and following Christ (Mark 8:34). It is a means of gaining self-control and
valuing spiritual things above material objects that make ordinary life comfortable. Giving
up something for Lent is one way we can identify ourselves with the suffering and selfdeprivation
of Jesus that culminates on Good Friday of Holy Week. The solemn mood begins on Ash
Wednesday with the imposition of ashes on our forehead to remind us we were created from dust and shall to
dust return.
We are strengthened during Lent by reading the scriptures that tell of Christ’s ministry leading up to his
suffering during Holy Week and his crucifixion on Good Friday. But the experience of reading does little good
if it only adds to our knowledge. To be effective, the experience must deepen our spiritual life and compel us to
surrender completely to God’s will and allow his Holy Spirit to work within us during this time of prayer and
fasting in our self-imposed “wilderness.”
Lent prompts us to confess our sins, examine our lifestyle and our motives, and set a course for selfimprovement
and spiritual growth. It is a time for opening the dark recesses we don’t want to admit, looking at
ourselves without rose-colored glasses and illusions of self-righteousness. It is a time for lying prostrate before
the Master’s feet and crying, “I am a sinner despite all my good intentions” and praying for the Lord’s
forgiveness as we determine to live more like the Lord to whom we are committed.
Lent, in short, prepares us for Easter, the day Jesus rose in triumph over sin and death to reign forever in
the invisible kingdom of God. Stripped of self-righteousness and self-delusion and bared to essential things, we
can face Easter as the hymnist says, “dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” It
is then that we can appreciate the wonderful grace of God that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Lent allows us to see beyond the sorrow of these days to the magnificent victory over suffering and
death that comes through God’s grace alone.
– Dr. James C. Bryant

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