08 Mar Intention & Renewal as We Journey to New Life
“New life” is a recurring theme in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. In the Old Testament, the seminal event of new life is the Exodus—Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt where they were in bondage as slaves. In the New Testament, the seminal event of new life is Jesus’ resurrection which in this context can be thought of as the liberation of humankind in bondage to sin.
This week marked the beginning of the season Christians call Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we started our annual pilgrimage towards the cross and the empty tomb, towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It takes us forty days to make this journey, which is resonate of the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert and the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tested and tempted before his public ministry began. The Lenten season is a time for repentance and confession, prayer and fasting, reflection and preparation. We use this season to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the meaning of Jesus’ death and how it impacts and shapes our lives. What does his example of self-sacrificing love have to say to us about how we extend ourselves on behalf of others? How does his faithfulness in the midst of extreme difficulty and pain speak to us in the midst of our own difficulties and pain? How can we reflect his character of compassion, humility, courage, and peace, even when our circumstances are anything but calm—perhaps especially when our circumstances are anything but calm?
Often people choose to give up something or conversely, to add something, during Lent. For example, some people give up sweets or fast food. Some commit to reading one Psalm or to meditate for ten minutes each day. Others choose to go on a “media diet”, eliminating or limiting their social media contact. One person I know de-cluttered her closet during Lent, selecting a certain number of items to give away each week. The possibilities are endless, and it doesn’t matter what the specific discipline is. The purpose is to focus our hearts and minds more intentionally on the sacrifice Jesus made by making a sacrifice ourselves. It’s also a way to choose a higher good over our usual convenience or habits.
These Lenten disciplines are in many ways “mini deaths,” as we deny ourselves something we would normally indulge in, and instead spending that time, energy, money, or skill focused on God or neighbor rather than self. The results can be surprising. We may notice a heightened awareness of God’s presence in our lives, or greater serenity, or deeper connection with people. But it’s just as likely that we will also notice how difficult it is to deny ourselves anything consistently over forty days. These disciplines can expose our addictions and our self-centeredness, our idols and our impatience. For those who persevere through the temptation to give up, there is a new and deeper appreciation for the joy of resurrection come Easter morning. And there is almost certainly a new truth or insight that we gain about ourselves along the way. Renewed or enriched spiritual growth is a special gift that results from our Lenten practices.
So, I invite you to join me in observing this Lenten season. What new discipline might you choose to intentionally practice over the next forty days as we follow Jesus to the cross? By engaging in such an activity, I believe we then are able to enter Holy Week and celebrate Easter with hearts and minds that are truly prepared to hear God’s word, a word of new life for all.
Yours for the Kingdom,