By Uche Amunike
It is the Lenten period of the year 2019 and once more, Christians the world over are forced into humble submission to embark on a journey of faith with our Lord Jesus Christ through His suffering and death. Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday (6th March), it is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.
Whereas Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus' crucifixion by Rome. This is believed to have taken place in the Roman-occupied Jerusalem. The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century (and not all do significantly) use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is more common these days for believers to surrender a particular vice such as their favourite foods.
I came across a write-up concerning Lent where the question about the number '40' came up. It tried to explain mystery surrounding the number 40. It described '40' as a significant number in the Jewish-Christian scripture. In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God. Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
Lent is practiced by Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, Baptist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches. The question in everyone's hearts now becomes, 'will you be observing Lent this year and what would you be giving up?'
Every year, we are filled with the zeal to be a part of the Lenten exercise. Apart from being Catholics, we as Christians are not alien to the suffering and eventual death of Christ. Every Catholic yearns to go on that 40 day journey with Christ in order to feel his pain at suffering, at death and after that, joy at his resurrection.
In order to complete this cycle, however, we need to understand the need for us to be equipped with God's grace in order be able to have a meaningful time going through this journey with the Lord.
What does Lent mean to you? For me, the purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial.
It is a time to take a walk down the sober lane and do some deep thinking. It's a time to wear the cloak of humility, piety and abstinence in order to be in the right frame of mind before embarking on this all important journey of forty days with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So many people stop a lot bad habits at this period and it is really commendable and worth encouraging. Some stop drinking alcoholic drinks. Some stop womanizing; Some stop stealing. Some stop smoking. Some wife batterers stop beating their wives, while some Catholics who hardly attend the holy Mass on Sunday begin to attend Mass more regularly.
I came across another very interesting post on the internet and I loved every bit of it. It says, 'Many of us try to be more disciplined for Lent and give up the things that we really like. That's great! Fasting has always been an important tradition of Lent. This year however, let us also consider other things that we can give up.
Give up on complaining. Focus on gratitude.
Philippians 2:14-15 – Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure...
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Jesus Christ.
Give up bitterness - Turn to forgiveness.
Ephesians 4:31 – Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Give up worry - Trust in God.
Matthew 6:25 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… who by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Give up discouragement - Be full of hope.
Deuteronomy 31:8 – The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you: he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Isaiah 40:31 – But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Give up hatred - Return good for evil.
1 John 2:9 – Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
Luke 6:27 – “But I tell you who hear me; Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
Give up anger - Be more patient.
Matthew 5:22 – But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
Proverbs 15:18 – A hot tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.
Give up gossiping - Control your tongue.
Psalm 34:13 – Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.
Proverbs 21:23 – He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.
I completely agree with the writer. There is so much to give up in our quest for righteousness, especially during this Lenten period. We can actually embark on fasting and abstinence from sin and not necessarily food. Still on Lent, Rev Fr Hyacinth Jemigbola wrote: 'In our Lenten reflection last year, we focused on the ashes as representing the dust from which we were made and therefore symbolizing the common struggle with our humanity, our struggle with the flesh. This year I want us to focus on another aspect of the ash-reality in our lives. Now, ashes result from the burning of a material item. Burning is a process of something falling apart, when the molecular bonds are broken and what was a beautiful piece is reduced to a pile of black and gray ash. Everyone of us has ashes. Everyone has something that has fallen apart in life and those things are lying there as a pile of ahses- sins, fears, disappointments, failures, pains and suffering. As we receive the ashes on our foreheads today may it be opportunity to remind ourselves those things, those areas of our lives that have fallen apart or from which something has fallen apart. Some of my ashes are the result of my mistakes or wrong choices I have made. God's design for my life is something glorious and beautiful but my mistakes turn them into ashes.
As we gather at the beginning of this 40 days journey, displaying these ashes on our foreheads, may we ask our Lord who is full of mercy and compassion to cleanse our souls of the piles of ruins, the ashes of lives fallen apart due to sin and wrong choices. May this forty days be for us, a period of reflection on those choices that we make that burn down our lives to ashes of destruction. It shall be for us, a 40 days of focusing on the messiness of life. No matter how hard we try, we still mess up and are messed up by bitterness, or envy, or greed, or pride, or lust, or malice, or fear.
In addition to this inward aspect of the journey of ashes, there is the outward apsect-a journey that takes us outside ourselves to discover people around us who are lying helpless in their piles of ashes of hunger, thirst and deprivation in life. May our fasting and self-denial during this Lent help to lift someone from his/her ashes.
Happy Ash Wednesday and fruitful Lenten Season!