The vast majority of the Church throughout the world observes the season of Lent. Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter. Depending on the denomination, Sundays may or may not be included in that 40 days. It is a season of introspection, of repentance, and of getting right with God and man.
This season, Lent began on Ash Wednesday, which this year fell on Feb. 10. It also happened to be, to the day, the 46th anniversary of the day I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
The reason that is significant for me is that is the date that I began what turned out to be an incredible and unexpected spiritual journey. It is in the Corps that I had a profound and personal encounter with Christ.
It was there that I became, not just a church member, but a solid and serious believer. It was in the Marine Corps that I strongly sensed a call to ministry. It was there I learned to pray and it was there that I first read through the New Testament.
It was a time of hardship, of struggle, of temptation, and spiritual failure. But it was also a time of mercy, of grace, of redemption, and renewal. That journey continues to this day. So, Ash Wednesday was also a time of remembrance and reflection for me.
Lent is also a journey, for those who choose to take it. Some will pay it no attention and will breeze through the season unaware and unchanged. Lent has to do with laying down and taking up. Above all, it has to do with laying down sin.
Sin, in its simplest terms, is any thought, word, or deed that causes us to have a breach in our relationship with God and/or other people. As with any journey, it is important to take essential items. For this spiritual journey, the Church has taught that the items we take up include prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor. We also need to take up an increased interest in and study of the scriptures.
For me, the taking up portion includes a new prayer regime which actually began several weeks prior to Lent: I am praying for, by name every day, all those in my church, the other clergy in my diocese, the bishops of North America, every member of my extended family, and all of our denomination’s military chaplains.
Admittedly, it takes a while, but most journeys take time. I’m also setting aside certain times during the day to read scriptures in a systematic way. And, of course, I am endeavoring to lay down that which is a hindrance in my spiritual life.
I am trying to live more simply, pray more earnestly, love more fully, and respond more compassionately. This year, I do not want to endure Lent. I choose to embrace it and allow it to change me and shape me — rather, I desire for God to do all of that during this period of time.
On Feb. 10, 1970, I began a journey and had no clue how that journey would affect, shape, and change my life. The same is true for this journey, although I have hopes and expectations. In any event, at the end of this journey is Easter morning, that great day of resurrection, of hope, and of life.
It is a symbol of life, I think. Lent is a journey filled with struggle, as is life. There are successes and failures, victories and defeats. There is sin and repentance and there is disappointment and joyful surprise.
It is not a journey that, we as believers, take alone. He who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” walks with us in the journey. At the end of Lent, and at the end of life, is Resurrection Morning. It is a journey worth taking.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]