Just weeks after two high profile mass shootings in California targeting primarily people of Asian descent and the murder of Tyre Nichols by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, we head into the liturgical season of Lent in the church.
I appreciate the Lenten season because it helps me slow down from the busyness, chaos, clutter, and incessant noise in my life. It also helps me prepare for Passion Week – Jesus’ last week before his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and takes us on a journey to the cross. The journey begins with an examination of our religious practices in light of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Chris and an invitation to confess the emptiness that sometimes characterizes those practices. We proclaim that from dust we have come and to dust we will return as we mark our foreheads with ashes.
Lent is associated with some kind of fasting because of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness fasting. In recent years, I’ve grown somewhat reticent about how vogue or easy it is to give something up during Lent – especially when it’s something like chocolate, sugar, social media, TV, coffee, alcohol, and you name it.
(Okay, well, coffee is a big deal.)
It’s too easy, though, for this giving up of something to end up focusing more on the stuff we’re giving up and less on removing distractions from our solidarity with Jesus.
It becomes about us. Again.
Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting but fasting that God is not pleased with. It’s fasting that caters to our own eyes or pleasure but not the kind of fasting that God invites us to, which is a life transformed:
In other words, I wonder if God might have these words for us:
“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to help people.”
As you consider what Lenten discipline you want to take on, I invite you to consider a Lenten journey focused on Jesus’ wilderness experience alongside or instead of fasting. To practice a wilderness journey, you could offer daily prayer, journal, or study. You might volunteer your time to feed hungry neighbors or put pen to paper in advocacy by writing letters to your members of Congress about the farm bill.
This kind of Lenten journey follows Jesus into the wilderness, through his ministry of healing and teaching, to the celebrations of Palm Sunday, the intimate moments at the Passover table and the Garden of Gethsemane and to the cross.
And at the cross, we are invited to surrender our lives so that we might find new life in Jesus’ resurrection.
This is the Gospel. Not self-help, pop spiritual psychology, but a Gospel that cuts into the heart of humanity with a grace and conviction that compels us to not just merely to salvation, but a life committed to mercy, justice, and humility.
Wilderness experiences take us out of our comfort zone. They challenge us to see ourselves and the world around us more clearly.
When we see more clearly, we can more clearly hear God’s call for our lives.
Here are some questions to consider as you consider a Lenten wilderness journey:
What practices might take me out of my comfort zone and help me see myself and the world more clearly?
What in my life distracts me from experiencing God that I might consider releasing in Lent?
What in my life brings me closer to experiencing God that I might consider doing more of in Lent?
What can I do to respond to the needs of my neighbors that I see in the world during Lent?
May we give ourselves more fully to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Remember, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Repent, believe, and be saved by the gospel of Christ.