The word Lent comes from a word related to the lengthening of days in the movement from winter to spring. The season begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for forty days, excluding Sundays. While Lent is thought of as a time for Christians to give up something or to sacrifice something, it is more than that. Lent is a time for us to stretch our lives before God as we stretch from one season to another. We move toward Easter, the time where we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lent comes before that monumental time in the Church’s life. It is a marker in the liturgical year where we welcome not the highlights but the sufferings of the world and of its people. Lent is another opportunity for us to remember that the follower of Jesus is a person walking the path of personal suffering and suffering endured for the sake of others.
Lent is a time of reflection and consideration. This is a reflective and penitential season, when Christians are called to examine ourselves as we remember the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and on behalf of the world God created. It is a time to consider how we are following the Suffering Servant who is Jesus or, perhaps, how we aren’t. We mourn our lack of faithfulness. We reflect upon it. And we, by God’s grace, change.
When I was a boy at St. John De La Salle, I got convinced that Lent was about giving up something. Meat. Chocolate. Commercials. In some ways the season is about giving something up, but that something is harder than the temporary offering of something like cartoons or food or phone calls. Lent is a time of repentance. Like a good gardener clipping weeds or yanking decayed roots, during this season, we pull up sinful roots that have wrapped our feet. The Spirit enables us to cut away at our old selves and things which bind us so that we can turn toward God who gives us new life.
Finally, Lent is a time of both daily and delayed celebration. The Gospel of Jesus Christ comes to say that we are unconditionally accepted and loved by a God who is more powerful than sin and suffering and death. As much as Lent is a time of suffering or repentance, it is also a time where we say over and over what God already knows—that people suffer daily and outside the bounds of a particular season. People suffer in Japan. People suffer in Haiti. People suffer in the Congo. We could write a long list.
The church says to itself and to the world around it that God is concerned about the suffering of people, that God has done something about that suffering. We celebrate God’s acts. We do so while we continue to trust that God who has acted will continue to act. We celebrate now for all God in Christ, and through the Church, has done. And we celebrate for what God will do as we look toward the next big, holy season.