I was in the gym today where they always play the local radio station REALLY LOUDLY, and I was startled to hear the presenter ask us what we were giving up for Lent, and that he knew lots of people who were going to give up Facebook for Lent.
I was startled because I’ve got so used to people not knowing stuff about the church and the Christian faith any more – yet here it seemed to be fairly widespread that Lent is a time when you give up things. And actually, giving up Facebook is not such a bad idea… Giving things up is a way of strengthening one’s will, being better able to say no to what is wrong.
The origin of Lent is found in the very early church, when there was a rigorous preparation of people who had come to faith in Christ and were getting ready for their baptism, which would be at Easter. The church then agreed that it was a good idea for all Christians to join in with the fasting, prayer and spiritual preparation in readiness for Holy Week and the Lord’s resurrection at Easter.
A sort of ‘spiritual gym’, you could say – when the idea is that we get a bit fitter spiritually.
The idea of fasting and prayer also went along with Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, which is how the church came up with the 40 days or 6 weeks of Lent leading up to Easter. Unless you are an Orthodox Christian, in which case it is 8 weeks, during which you will eat a vegan diet.
Lots of churches have a special service for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent – that’s today. Some burn the palm crosses from the previous year and use the ash to make a sign of the cross on the foreheads of those who attend, with the words
The service kick-starts a spiritual spring-clean, thinking through grubby aspects of our lives and offering them to God for some washing and polishing.
If it all sounds a bit negative, it really isn’t: it’s more a chance to do some serious business with God, to be blessed by his forgiveness and to draw closer to Christ, who for us is the greatest enrichment.
People do give things up, but many also give things away or get involved with a social justice issue. It’s an opportunity to focus.
A great prayer from one of the services:
in whom we live and move and have our being,
you have made us for yourself
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose,
that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will,
no weakness from doing it;
but that in your light we may see light,
and in your service find our perfect freedom,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.