The Challenge of the Lenten Season
Many ministers prefer not to go as far as prescribing the eating of fish during Lent. But they will patronizingly throw a fish, so to speak, to the whole Lenten idea. That is, they will make some occasional references to Lent here and there during the worship service; they will hold a special series of midweek meetings; and they will recommend certain Lenten reading. But the basic concept of Lent as a time of prayer and fasting in memory of our Lord's passion and death will receive only lip service. And our Roman Catholic friends, who by and large take the Lenten season rather seriously, will smile gently at clumsy Protestant attempts to mark the occasion, and will murmur, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
As a first step toward solution, we could refer to certain Scripture passages (Ecclesiastes 3:1; Luke 22:19; Acts 20:16, and so forth) which indicate that the Christian's observance of certain sacred periods is not wholly inappropriate. A basis for such observance may even be found in the divine order of Creation (Genesis 2:1 ff.). Surely it is not by accident that God established a rhythm in the universe, so evident in the natural order. Man is part of his universe; and just as our Lord had his seasons of prayer upon the mountain, so it is meet for us to spend time in contemplation of our Saviour and of his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf. And what better time is there for such sustained reflection than during the sacred days prior to the celebration of His resurrection?
Lent can become a time when material things are put again in their proper secondary position; when we see in the spiritual the unconquerable forces of life. It can become a time of self-examination, when we reflect upon our present position in the pilgrimage and check our directions. It can become a time of personal readjustment, not through mental resolutions to do better but through yielding ourselves afresh to the God who demands to be obeyed. And it can become a time when, by following the battered path to Calvary, we identify ourselves once again with the Saviour who makes all things new.
The task of the Church during Lent is to make this experience real to the people who are Christ's body. The form is unimportant and may well vary from group to group and from taste to taste. What is all important is that the form support, not obstruct, the way of the Holy Spirit of God who brings life to ritual and free worship alike, and who turns ashes into new men.
This article originally appeared in the March 14, 1960, issue of Christianity Today.
See our other seasonal article today, "Let's Lengthen Lent | The season can be a beautiful and deeply moving experience of walking with Jesus to the cross."
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