I love that this year Valentine’s Day and the beginning of the Lenten season fall on the same day. (The people that decided to give up chocolate, probably not so much!)
Did you know that Lent means so much more than just giving up Facebook? It is meant to be time of reflection. It begins with Ash Wednesday, where in many traditions people attend a worship service in which ashes are placed on their foreheads in the sign of a cross as the priest or minister repeats, “From dust you have come, and to dust you will return” (from Genesis 3:19, NIV). It is a solemn occasion, a reminder to each of us that life on this earth is fleeting, that we all must face death one day. This is an uncomfortable thought, one most of us would rather avoid, but sitting with it for a while, pondering the weight of those words, allows us to truly take stock of our lives and what we believe will happen when we take our last breath.
On this Ash Wednesday, social media is all abuzz with talk of what everyone is giving up. Fasting from “vices,” of course, can all be really good things for our bodies and our minds. But, we miss the point if we just do it to better ourselves–to look better or feel better or have a less cluttered mind. Lent is much bigger than that.
Because Lent is about love. Not candy hearts and flowers, but real, lasting, sacrificial love.
Lent is about focusing on Jesus’ own temptation and perfect ability to deny Himself and exert self-control in every way.
Lent is about reflecting on the reason for Ash Wednesday. Because we are beings who were given free will, and out of that freedom chose to bring sin and evil into the world. We are not perfect, we are a sin-filled, sinful people. This is another incredibly uncomfortable fact to ponder and to digest. It’s ugly, but it is the absolute truth that we must wrestle with. Our sin means that each one of us must face death. “For the wages of sin is death…” (from Romans 6:23, NIV).
None of this sounds like love, does it?
Except that Lent is also about contemplating Jesus’ sacrifice. We as a people are sinful, fallen, broken. We all like to think that we are generally good people, but the stark truth is that we deserve separation from God. We cannot cross the bridge over to His perfection, His paradise, on our own. Jesus, fully God and fully Man is perfect–the only One who can make a way for us. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (from John 14:6, NIV). The Hebrew people had to offer sacrifices over and over to atone for their sin in order to have a way to God…Jesus offered Himself as the Ultimate Sacrifice and made the way for all who believe.
God loved us so much that He sent His only Son with the intention that He would die for us (John 3:16). Jesus “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG) knowing He would suffer and die. He laid down His life for His friends. He no longer calls those who love Him sinners, but saints. We are guilty, but He gives us grace. And He rose victorious from the grave, conquering sin and death for us. Death has lost its sting. “For the wages of sin is death,” but the rest of the story is this, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NIV).
Because Lent is about love.
This year for Lent, when we give something up, let’s do it to remind us of the much greater sacrifice that was made for us.
This year, maybe we give of ourselves for Lent by sacrificing something in order donate to someone in need. Maybe this year we can give of our time to show someone they matter, offer to serve somewhere that needs a volunteer, take our time to sit with someone who is lonely. This year, let’s make Lent have a lasting impact not just on our bodies, but on our souls, and for eternity. And let’s ponder the great, great love Jesus has for us.
Because Lent is about love.