This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is a 40-day season focusing on Christ’s passion. Why such a long time, you might ask? There are many reasons. 40 days is the classic Biblical length of time that is taken to purify oneself or prepare oneself for a special purpose. Also, it can take a while for us to ‘get in the mindset’ for a particular biblical focus (be it joy or sorrow), so we need time to work ourselves into it. And since Easter is the height of the Christian story, it is therefore the height of the Christian calendar. And thus, it makes sense to prepare ourselves for the glorious day of Easter by following in Jesus’ footsteps of suffering before glorification.
But why observe a Christian calendar at all? Jesus and the Apostles taught that we are to live with one accord, with one mind. This means not only with one another in the local church, but in the universal church, present, past, future, and even with Christ Himself. And because how we perceive and measure time has a profound influence on how we think and perceive the world, it makes perfect sense to order our year around Christ, more than anything else. Thus, out of love for both Christ and his Church, it is appropriate that we observe the year according to how Christians have come to order it. And it’s also valuable spiritual formation.
Of course, the key word here is formation. This is not something that makes sense to the practitioner immediately, nor does it even necessarily benefit the practitioner immediately. But over time it forms the worshiper, and deepens our spiritual walk. Just like with physical exercise, it takes a several reps over several days before you start noticing any difference in physical fitness. So also with observing the Christian calendar and being spiritually formed, it will take a couple reps (in this case, years) before the true fruits of the discipline might emerge.
But I don’t want to dwell too long on the personal benefits of the spirituality of the Christian calendar, because Christianity is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about any one person whosoever. Christianity is about the Trinity and His creation, especially the Church, of which Jesus Christ is the head. We are called to oneness with one another and with God. So while we can and should pursue our individual gifts in order to contribute uniquely to the whole, we must also with equal vigor pursue a common spiritual life, facilitated by corporate worship in real time – according to a shared calendar.
So I implore you, if you do not typically observe Lent, and especially if you do not see the point of observing it, to give it a chance. Take up a Lenten discipline for these 40 days starting on Wednesday. It does not have to be the stereotypical “give something up for Lent;” it could just as easily be adding something to your devotional life for the time being. The simplest would be self-examination. Since Lent is a penitential season, it’s an ideal time to give extra attention to our sinfulness, and being open with God about it. Pray prayers of confession, focus on Christ’s passion, that its our sins that drove him to the cross. It’s a real opportunity to move from the head to the heart: don’t just know we’re sinners saved by grace, feel sorry for your sins, and seek to live according the grace you have received!