Lent: Preparing for renewal

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I wonder what you think about Lent? For many of us it has a slightly grim image. It’s often spoken about as a tine for “giving things up”. This could make it a useful period of self-discipline, and - there’s got to be a silver lining to every cloud - a useful way to lose a bit of weight.

The origin of the name “Lent” in English is that this period in the Church’s year occurs during the “lengthening of the days”. Lent happens at a time when the days are getting longer. Leaves and blossom appear on the trees, flowers are coming out, the days are warmer as well as longer. It is a time of hope and renewal in the natural world. This sense of hope and renewal fits perfectly with the spirit of Lent, which is a time of preparation for Easter.

In the early Church the period before Easter was a time of preparation for baptism. As baptism is entering into the death and resurrection of Christ, performing baptisms at Easter seemed the natural thing to do. But people needed to prepare for this great event. They received teaching about the faith and as an integral part of assimilating that teaching, they delved deeply into prayer and fasting in order to draw nearer to Christ. To this day, in many Christian traditions, people renew their baptismal vows at Easter: “I turn to Christ. I submit to Christ. I come to Christ.”

This period of prayer and fasting in preparation for baptism was something that the whole Church entered into in solidarity with those who were to be baptised, and so it came to a season of the Church experienced by all believers.

Because Jesus himself fasted and prayed for 40 days in preparation for his public ministry, the sense of solidarity with each other extended also to an awareness that Christians are sharing in Christ’s prayerful preparation to do God’s work. A complete fast of 40 days and nights in a desert is not what most of us are called to do in Lent! But it’s good to remember that it’s a time of preparation for something wonderful, something that accords completely with the warming, flowering, joyful lengthening of the days. As the new shoots turn towards the sun, so we too “turn to Christ”.

Mother Sarah

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