Lent

Published on Mar 24th, 2018 by admin | 0
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As you read this, Lent will have started, and you will have enjoyed your pancakes, and will be missing chocolate, or wine, or cheese, or whatever it is that you have given up, if you have given anything up. The seasons of giving things up, a second shot at my New Year’s resolution, if you like, that is the way most of us think about Lent.

Lent is, in fact, a very ancient part of the Christian year, finding its origins in the baptismal rites of the early Church. In the first centuries AD, the majority of baptisms were of adult converts to Christianity. With the exception of emergencies, baptisms generally took place on Easter day, the day when Christ’s new life burst from the tomb, and symbolically, the day when Christian converts were born into their new life as members of Christ’s church. If you look at baptistries of this era, many of them are deliberately tomb-shaped (there is a particularly notable example at in Syria, in the ancient town of Dura Europos), emphasising the image of a convert dying with Christ in baptism and being born again to new life.

Those who were to be baptised at Easter would have to undergo a lengthy period of preparation, known as the Catechumenate, a strange word which literally means ‘talking down’, or better ‘instruction’. This would have involved teaching in basic Christian doctrine, and ethics and establishment in patterns of personal prayer and devotion. This period of preparation would culminate in the great fast of Lent, forty days (minus the Sundays, on which, you will be pleased to hear, you can still drink wine and eat chocolate etc.), mirroring the forty days and forty nights which Jesus spent fasting in the desert. It was a time to consolidate all that had been learnt, to deny self, to give alms and to devote oneself to prayer.

From this, the church developed a yearly season of preparation, not just for those to be initiated, but for us all. In Lent we remember that despite our best efforts, we all fall back, we all struggle to live the life we would like to live. All of us have habits we would like to change, but which never seem to fully go away. Lent is a time when we acknowledge the love of God which allows us to return, as many times as necessary, to start afresh, to re-commit ourselves to study, prayer, self-detail and generosity to others.

If you, like me, are in the habit of trying to make something of Lent, my prayer for us this year is that the good start we make over these forty days might linger a little longer than Easter Sunday; that we would develop good, life giving habits to take into the rest of the year with us.

If you haven’t ever thought about making something of Lent, perhaps this is the year start? Perhaps this is the year to acknowledge that your life isn’t as you would like it to be, and make steps forward to change, to find healing and refreshment, knowing that underneath you are eternal arms of love which will never let go, and will allow you to start afresh whenever you need to.

I wish you all a peaceful and blessed Lent.

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