Lent: What does this mean?

As a kid growing up in a small town in South Dakota, I knew two things about Lent. First, it meant we had awesome soup on Wednesday night when we went to church. Second, on Friday, I would get all the fish sticks I wanted. As a fan of fish sticks and soup, Lent was pretty close to paradise on earth.

While I still enjoy soup, the pleasure I derived from fish sticks has waned. However, my love of the season of Lent has grown.

When we talk about Easter or Christmas, we often say that we celebrate them. They are festival days. Festivals are fun. Right? Lent is not so much of a celebration. Celebration rings of a joyful time and joyful hearts. Lent is more solemn. What is Lent? The short answer is that Lent is about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It is a prayerful and reflective season of the church calendar that focuses penitence.

I think Lent is especially poignant because of the focus on Jesus’ suffering and his death. Suffering and death is ubiquitous to the human experience of life. Everyone’s time on earth is limited and there is suffering everywhere we look.

One of the places we see this suffering is in our daily life. Here in Southern California, we can look at the suffering and death we saw during the Thomas Fire and the Montecito mudslides. We each experience suffering in a visceral manner.

When we read or hear that Lent focuses on penitence, we typically turn inward. This however, is not the primary meaning of penitence.

To illustrate this, we can look at the imposition of ashes. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, those who desire it, are marked on their forehead with ashes. The ashes proclaim that you are the walking dead. When we look inwardly, we see nothing but death because of sin.

However, the ashes are not merely smeared on the brow, they are imposed in the shape of a cross. The cross proclaims that Jesus has opened the Gates of Heaven for all who believe in Him. It is this, the cross of Christ Jesus, where death itself was destroyed, which is our focus.

Lent then is not primarily about our suffering and death but instead the victory that Jesus obtained over suffering and death in order to save the world through his own suffering and death. Through Jesus’ death, those who believe are given life. Lent is a profound and poignant reminder of the salvation that is mine through Jesus Christ. That is why I love Lent.

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