Lent: A Gift to the Church
by Amanda Watson
A gift is freely given and freely received. A gift is given with no requirements, and no strings attached. A gift is freely received to be utilized, enjoyed, or stored away in a closet to be retrieved only occasionally as it is recalled, or as a need arises.
“This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church…. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church to the observance of a holy Lent.”
(Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday liturgy, page 265.)
As Christians, we are on a journey - a journey to God. Our destination is Easter, “the Feast of Feasts” a celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a celebration of new life received at baptism; St. Paul says, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” The death of Christ “changed the very nature of death, made it a passage—a “Passover” – into the Kingdom of God.” Christ has made us partakers of His Resurrection.
Alleluia, we have received this most precious gift, and yet, we are inclined to forget this most glorious gift. We become so busy with our daily preoccupations. In our forgetfulness, we fail, sin enters, and we fall back into our “old” life—perhaps we become nominal Christians absorbed in our daily life losing the ecstasy of that gift of New Life given in baptism. It is a time of falling away from the community, being self-absorbed in what we do rather than being who we are. It is a time of falling into our “notorious” sins—those sins in which we do not live the new life which Christ has revealed to us. How can we return to that glorious promise of New Life? It is with the gift of Lent.
Each Ash Wednesday, the Church offers to each of us a gift: the opportunity to obeserve a Holy Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word… to make a right beginning.” Lent was originally the preparation of the newly converted for baptism. Lent remains much the same today, for even though we are baptized, we constantly lose and forget that joy of New Life given at Baptism. Lent is a time of rest, a rest within the God who gives life. It is a rest, not of just abstinence, but a time of seeking, listening, and re-evaluating. The Church offers a time to step away from our business, to hear the quiet voice of God through which we can return to the joy and expectation of new life given to us at baptism: Lent is “a slow and sustained effort in our own passage to the new life in Christ.” Lent is a gift of the Church, a time to once again rediscover what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.
Lent is a time given by the Church to “repent, for the kingdom is near,” a time to prepare “our souls and bodies” to joyously proclaim “Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
Lent: a glorious gift of the Church freely given and freely received. Amen.