What is Lent about?
Is it simply about giving up sweets, or alcohol, or whatever, for forty days as an act of self-denial and a test of willpower?
Is it about observing a prolonged Holy Week that makes us focus on every last detail of Jesus’ final way to the cross?
Or is it about exploring and returning to our identity as people who’ve passed through the waters of Holy Baptism, as people who’ve been raised up as brothers and sisters in Christ to a new life marked by his love and grace?
What Lent calls us to remember is that our lives are intertwined in each other. God’s grace has made us Christ’s community (a people who serve each other with unity). But we so easily fail to recognize that, and live it out because we’re preoccupied with ourselves and our narrow concerns.
That’s why we hear these words from the prophet Joel when we gather as the Church on Ash Wednesday: Return to me with all your heart, says the Lord, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Tear your hearts in repentance instead of your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful. Gather the people and set apart the congregation as holy. Assemble the elders and gather all the children (Joel 2:12&13,16).
That’s why we hear these words from St. Paul: We are ambassadors for Christ. God is making his appeal to others through us, so we implore you to be brought back in peace to God. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way (2 Corinthians 5:20,6:3&4).
God wants each of us together. He’s not after the temporary giving up of a “guilty pleasure” but the “giving up” (for good) of what we need to do without, as well as the “taking up” of things that do us well, and the "taking up" of Jesus’ transformative change in our hearts, our congregation, and world.
It’s a lot to ask, yes, but it holds our Lord’s promise of renewal, of being healed together, and of being made whole as a community again.
Yours in the peace and joy of Jesus, +Pastor Aaron B Boerst