Rev. Eric Bell|
Looking back, forward at Lent
The word "Lent" is from the Anglo-Saxon "Lencten," meaning springtime.
Lent is a 40-day period of repentance and renewal beginning Ash Wednesday and ending with the Easter service. It is a special time for meditation, prayer and penitential practices.
Lent is also a time for focusing on the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many people also renew their baptismal vows and recommit their lives to Christ and the Christian way of life.
The season of Lent is extremely important because it gives plenty of time to think about the Easter story and absorb its meaning.
You remember the story, don't you? It is the story of how Jesus Christ left all the glory of heaven; was born of a woman, Mary; lived a holy life; and then died on a cross. All this was for the single purpose of paying the penalty for your sins and mine.
Then we have the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday — the resurrection that opened the door for every person who asks for forgiveness of sins to have victory over death, hell and the grave.
Lent also prepares us to celebrate Easter more fully through participating in practices such as prayer and self-denial and through reflecting on our personal inadequacies and shortcomings and resolving to overcome these.
Lent developed in the early church as a time to focus on the meaning of baptism and penance prior to confirmation and Easter baptism. Later, the emphasis changed to private penance and a time of forgiveness and reconciliation for those who acknowledge their sinfulness.
During the Middle Ages, people began observing strict 40-day fasts (abstaining from meat and some other foods). Also, not attending festivities and other fun events during Lent became obligatory for Christians. Gradually these practices became less rigid.
Today, the emphasis has shifted from long periods of fasting to a personal, spiritual housecleaning through worship, prayer, meditation, self-denial, helping others and reflecting on the meaning of Easter. Lent remains important as a time of preparation for and renewal of baptism.
For those of us who have been Christians for many years, Lent calls us to look back at the impact of salvation and baptism on our lives.
Should you wish to make this an effective Lent in your life and reflect on your life in Christ, set aside some time to examine your life and ask yourself these questions.
How am I doing in the Christian way of life?
Have I really died to sin and self?
Have I really come alive to new life in Christ?
What have I done for Christ since the first of the year?
Can people look at my daily life and see Jesus Christ in me?
Spiritual renewal is possible only if you are willing to repent of your sins and allow God to change your life. The Apostle Paul wrote that inner change is the responsibility of each Christian and the church as a whole.
"So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20, RSV).
If you decide after reflection that you have strayed from a close relationship with Jesus Christ, I invite you to admit that you have sinned and that Christ died for those sins, repent and turn to God and renew your commitment to God. More than just going to church, this involves discovering and carrying out God's will.
Finally, find one to four friends who can be your spiritual mentors. We all need to have someone or a small group of people who will hold us accountable spiritually and give us insight into our spiritual lives. You will be accountable to one another to hold one another up and keep your lives in the will of God.
This needs to be what we do year-round and for the rest of our lives, not just for this season called Lent.
The Rev. Eric Bell, pastor of Tanner United Methodist Church, is one of several local ministers writing religion columns for The Daily. For more information, call Melanie Smith at 340-2468.