Lent has begun

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The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which, this year, is February 17. Lent, which is observed by the vast majority of the world’s Christians, is the 40-day period of repentance and renewal preceding Easter. The week leading up to Easter is called Holy Week and commemorates the last week of Christ’s life on Earth.

Lent is a special time of meditation, prayer, and penitential practices. It also offers an increased understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. It also may involve the renewal of baptismal vows and a recommitment to the Christian life.

Two practices that are the most common during Lent are fasting and prayer. It should be noted that biblical fasting (unlike some secular understandings of fasting) is always accompanied with prayer. Fasting without prayer is simply dieting.

Some fasting includes doing without something for a reason. It may be food altogether, or meat, one or two meals a day, or doing without some favorite food product. Some people fast chocolate or ice cream. I heard of one man who fasts beer during Lent but continues to consume hard liquor, which seems odd to me.

One might also use Lent as an opportunity to break a bad habit and begin more healthy habits. Many people give up smoking for Lent in the hopes of giving it up altogether. Others give up profanity or pornography during Lent with the plan of never picking up those practices again.

It is important to remember that the primary reason for Lent is to be renewed spiritually, not just “turn over a new leaf.” Renewal automatically involves repentance as a first and continuing step.

Years ago, one man told me that he had no need to confess his sins and repent because, when he was saved, all his sins — past, present, and future — were forgiven. Well, it doesn’t work that way.

In fact, the Bible states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that “there is no one righteous, no, not one.” If this were not enough, there’s the passage that says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us … If we say that we have not sinned, we make him (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.” St. James says, “Confess your sins one to another,” and he was speaking to Christians.

Repentance also involves the “amendment of life.” In other words, we strive to lay down the sins that ensnare us. On a positive note, we also determine to “take up” those practices that enhance our spirituality: prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, good deeds, giving to the poor, giving of our time, treasure, and talent, forgiving others, and the list goes on.”

We “lay down” — if we are serious — attitudes and practices like pride, hatred, bigotry, anger, gossip, judgmentalism, wrongdoing, sexual sins, unforgiveness, lying, and all the things that do violence to our spiritual selves.

In my own life, I try to approach Lent prayerfully, asking God what should I lay down and what I should take up? What do I give up temporarily and what is to be discarded altogether? That can be a surprise!

Those who know me from years ago, are aware that I was a “diet soft drink addict.” There was never a time, except in the pulpit, that I did not have a diet soft drink in my hand. But, about 12-14 years ago I became convicted that this was a stronghold in my life. Not a sin, necessarily, but it was, for me, an unprofitable practice. I haven’t had a soft drink of any kind since that time.

Sometimes I fast in specific ways or offer prayers at specific times and for specific things. Sometimes I read the biography of some saint or other Christian person who has lived their life in a way as to be an example for others to emulate. Bible reading for personal edification, and not just for preparing sermons or lessons, is a good practice all year long.

Lent is not a self-punishing time. It’s not about being masochistic and committing self-flagellation. Quite the opposite. It is about “returning home” to a God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine.

Christian songwriter and singer Don Francisco released a song in 1977 called, “I Don’t Care Where You’ve Been Sleeping,” about a God whose message was, to a weary and burdened failure, that there’s no sin they could imagine that was stronger than His love … if only they would come home to Him.

For some, Lent is a wonderfully holy and precious season. For others, it’s limping toward Easter having been terribly beaten and wounded by sin, failure, disappointment, and circumstances. But the goal is the same. Acceptance, forgiveness, and restoration.

There are only two entities that we can sin against: (1) God and (2) others. There are only three ways we can sin: (1) in thought, (2) in word, and (3) in deed. We think it, we say it, or we do it. Maybe we even do all three. I once had a teenager ask me how many of the Ten Commandant I had broken in my own life. I replied. “All of them. All of them” There is none righteous. No, not even one.

I pray that you may experience a holy and meaningful Lent. I pray that, at the end of this season, you will find your own life resurrected by God’s transforming love and power.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemics, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]