10rth February 2024
"Why keep Lent?"
Lent, the forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays), begins this year on Wednesday 14th February.
Most things in the church's year are festivals and we happily talk about celebrating them.
Lent is very different.
It is a minor-key period that is never 'celebrated' but only 'kept'.
Some churches and Christians treat Lent very seriously, while others ignore it entirely.
Even among those who keep Lent, there is no agreement on how it should be kept.
Many Christians try to give up something: for instance, chocolate, social media or television.
It's even become a period for us to try to break bad habits, almost as if Lent gives us another opportunity to retake those New Year's resolutions seriously!
Now what exactly is Lent about?
Lent is about three preparations.
Lent is a preparation for Easter.
Easter, with its message of Jesus destroying sin and death through his death and resurrection, is the most exciting moment in the church's year.
Yet we can undercut this note of victory by being so occupied that, amid the frantic busyness of our lives, we carelessly stumble upon Easter.
Lent provides us with forty days' preparation to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that forces us to prayerfully ponder the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
As the best way to appreciate a sunrise is to be there in the darkness before dawn, so a good way to appreciate Easter is to have come to it through Lent.
We as Christians are, of course, an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.
Secondly, Lent is a preparation for Existence.
A fatal flaw in our culture today is that people do not know how to say 'no' to bad things.
It is now almost a virtue to give in to every desire that comes upon us.
Yet a great element in Christian morality is to be able to say no to wrong desires.
St Paul, in Titus 2:11-12, says:
'For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives' (NIV).
Lent gives us the opportunity to practise resisting harmful and hurtful desires.
Trivial as it may appear, a battle won over chocolate, coffee or cake at Lent may help us win a battle over lust, lying or laziness thereafter.
Finally, Lent is a preparation for Eternity.
If we take Lent seriously, then these forty days can seem to be a long and often wearying season in which we never get our own way.
Here, for a time, pleasures are put to one side.
But Lent doesn't last.
The darkness is broken by the joyful light of the glorious triumph of Easter Day.
Here there is a splendid parallel with our lives.
For many of us, much of our life seems to take place in what we might call 'Lent mode': things do not go as we hope, we do not get what we want and our joys appear absent.
Yet, for the Christian, there is that wonderful and certain hope that however deep and hard the darkness is in our lives, it will ultimately be lifted and replaced by an indestructible joy.
For those of us who love Jesus, life's long Lent will end, one day, in an eternal Easter in which sin and death are destroyed for ever.
Whether or not you keep Lent, starting on Wednesday 14th February, and in what way you keep it, is your choice.
But to keep Lent, thoughtfully and prayerfully, is to experience a rich and lasting inheritance.
Be blessed this Lent and bless others.
is an Evangelist, minister, speaker, broadcaster and writer.
He has been in ministry for four decades. He has spoken in towns, cities and universities in 69 countries.
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