Lent is a six- week period before Easter, wherein churches that observe the season focus on 1) Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross, 2) preparation for baptism or renewal of baptismal vows, and 3) corrective spiritual discipline with a prayer toward increased faith and deepened trust in God.
Sometimes when people think about spiritual disciplines for Lent, they think "giving things up"- a setting aside of something enjoyable for a season of deprivation (only to resume the habit or activity at Easter). The purpose of spiritual discipline isn't (usually) deprivation, but instead an exercise to make one stronger in internal and external faith demonstration. We should be setting aside things that cause us to feel separated from Christ and/or taking up actions or practices that help us to connect with the Ground and Source of our Being.
For most of us, chocolate is not getting between us and Jesus. In fact, when we set aside candy or sweets as our discipline or make a new diet our Lenten focus, there can be a detrimental side effect of demeaning our body, which is a generous and valuable gift from God. We may need to make changes in how we treat our body, but that often begins with how we think of it.
Back to the spiritual disciplines of Lent. What one takes up or sets aside should be connected to reflection on the life of Jesus and to the sacrament of baptism. Let's take a quick look at the baptismal vows spoken by parents or baptismal sponsors (or by an adult candidate for baptism):
As you bring your children to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities:
to live with them among God's faithful people,
bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,
teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in their hands the holy scriptures,
and nurture them in faith and prayer,
so that your children may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
Those are some hefty promises, only really possible with the help of the Holy Spirit and when we have learned not to fear death and hell because of our freedom in Christ. Our Lenten disciplines, then, should be connected to these promises, helping us to take up habits that relate to our baptized status or setting aside the things that get in the way of living into that same baptized status.
We are not baptized into a "Jesus and me" life; we are born again into a life that is lived in Jesus for the sake of the world, from our closest neighbors to the people across the planet whom we will never meet. Each year, we are invited into a season of course correction for the sake of those relationship. Our redirection, our repentance, in anchored in Christ, so we are not floundering about, trying to find our way. Instead, we imitate the words and deeds of the pioneer of our faith, Jesus.
So, as you prepare for Lent, prayerfully consider your disciplines. Ask God to guide you into good work that will deepen your understanding of baptism, your awareness of the Spirit, and your trust in God's presence. Be prepared to be changed.
I think, and this is just me, that it is only when we have done the hard work of Lenten discipline and still realize how much grace we need that we are truly able to glimpse the powerful grace of the empty tomb and the resurrected Savior of the world.
This will be my dismissal phrase for Lent (at the end of church services) and I'm offering it to you now.
Go in peace. Be diligent in discipline and strong in faith.
(Thanks be to God.)