What is Lent for? As I was growing up I always thought that it symbolized and helped us to remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. That idea of self-denial seemed to fit with the ideas of giving things up for Lent that were all around me. But Lent is much more than that. It is a time of preparation. In first few hundred years of the church, when it was still a fledgling movement, the 40 days before Easter became a time of instruction and preparation for Baptism and acceptance into the church. Each day for at least 3 hours, those wanting to be baptised had to receive teaching on the meanings of the sacraments. Some of them even lived in the church, shutting themselves off from the outside world whilst they drew close to the mystery of the death and resurrection. Let’s perhaps be thankful that that’s not what the church expects nowadays! But, we shouldn’t reject out of hand the idea that Lent is a time for contemplation and for learning.
Lent is not just a time for giving-up things that we like, but also a time to make good any relationships that are going awry in preparedness for the great celebration of Easter. This is traditionally done through prayer (relationship with God), fasting (relationship with self) and through charitable giving (relationship with neighbour). I think it’s a real shame that parts of the church and society in general has forgotten the first and the last of these practices and that Lenten discipline has become focussed on self-denial. The primary purpose of Lent is not to deny ourselves the things we enjoy but to redress the balance of our lives.
So I pray that you will find time this Lent to fix your eyes upon the cross and journey into a deeper relationship with God and the world around you.