The 40 day Journey known throughout much of Church history as Lent could be called the Christian disciple’s “Spring Training!” (Lent means “spring”) It’s getting ourselves more fit and strong and disciplined for the “regular season” of following Jesus.
In the Scriptures the number 40 relates to the period spent in the Ark by Noah, the period spent by Israel seeking the Promised Land after the Exodus, and the amount of time Jesus was in the Wilderness after his baptism and prior to beginning his ministry. For us, the Season of Lent is an invitation to 40 days of renewal, 40 days to prepare ourselves to take in the Good News of Easter through deeper disciplines of prayer, fasting, and acts of compassion. We want to pass on some suggestions for making the most of this 40 day season leading up to Easter. (Check back to this blog for more reflections on the journey and please feel free to add your own comments and ways God is working in you.)
Lent begins in the West with Ash Wednesday – that includes a service of repentance and humility; the ashes reminding us of the brevity of life. Scripture readings include Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Joel 2, Matthew 6:1-21. (At Christ Church we meet Tuesday eve. at 7 pm and Wednesday morning at 7 am)
For Scripture Readings, this year I’m following the Eastern church practice of working through not only the Psalms (which I seek to do monthly anyway), but also:
Genesis – creation and fall of humanity
Proverbs – one each week day, a dose of the Divine Wisdom
Isaiah – chapters 1-12 and 40-66, the “Old Testament Gospel”
Hebrews – read slowly to understand the unfolding drama of salvation from the Old Testament and unveiled in the New.
For several years we have taught and prayed the 4th Century Prayer of Ephraim the Syrian.
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth and apathy,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity and wholeness,
humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages. Amen
You may want to incorporate this into your prayer time each day along with the Lord’s Prayer and meditate on it as a kind of checklist of those things that both poison and energize the spiritual life. (click here for a beautiful commentary explaining it)
For Sundays, plan to follow the texts being preached on in Sunday worship, mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. Or if you want to camp out in Matthew for these 40 days you can access Lent for Everyone – readings and commentary by N.T. Wright based on the first gospel and available through YouVersion software (and available in APP form) from LifeChurch.tv.
Fasting is a part of Lent. Fasting and Giving compassionately remind us that the body is good and is not separated from our spiritual life. Our misuse of the body and eating can weigh down the spirit instead of assisting us in our growth. “Fasting of the body is food for the soul.” (John Chrysostom) Fasting that does not lead to caring for others in need and greater patience and compassion is not genuine. Going without, should give us more capacity for worship, prayer, giving, and compassion. Fasting that does not lead to transformation from anger to gentleness; cruelty to generosity…a more Christ-like spirit – is useless!
More on fasting suggestions to come.