Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Why Lent? (3 Reasons)

Usually the first reaction I get when I mention that I observe Lent is “Isn’t that a Catholic thing?” The answer is no; Lent is also observed by Orthodox Christians and several Protestant denominations.

The second question might be, “Why?” After all, I’m a Messianic. We’ve got our own set of holidays already (ones that are actually mentioned in the Bible). Why venture into the Christian calendar? I’ve got a few reasons. Let’s take a look.

1 - To Prepare our Hearts for Passover

One of the first things that appealed to me about the Christian seasons of Lent and Advent is that they allowed the holidays I had grown to love (Sukkot and Passover) to spill over into the rest of the year. With themes that fit fairly well with the major Biblical holidays, these seasons feel like an extension of those pilgrimage feasts guiding me in a spiritual journey up to these moments of worship in the Biblical calendar. In a sense, you could say I observe Lent because I love Passover so much. Why have just a day, when you can have a whole season?

The Lenten formula consists of prayer, fasting, and charity. Most of us in the Messianic tradition are well acquainted with scouring our house for any traces of leaven in the weeks leading up to Passover. Sometimes we also talk about removing the leaven from our hearts. Lent fits right in here. Prayer and fasting serve as spiritual and physical aids for searching our hearts and removing the leaven as we prepare our hearts and home for Passover.

Consider the Israelites when they left Egypt. They left behind their leaven and the physical trappings of Egyptian culture. But, as revealed by their trials in the wilderness, we see they still had Egypt within them. It wasn’t until forty years later, after crossing the Jordan, that God finally declared “I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

As we approach the Passover season, Lent can give us a time period of focused prayer, fasting, and reflection in which to weed out the Egypt within us. To identify and toss aside the idols in our lives. To leave behind the “dead Egyptians” that always seem to be chasing us. That way we can come to Passover as unleavened souls.

2 - To Connect with the Wider Body of Messiah

Another reason for my love of the Christian calendar is because it connects me to believers across the world and through history. In the past, the Messianic movement has been a bit of a separatist movement. There haven’t been a lot of opportunities to connect with those outside our particular tradition. So, ever since I first starting discovering the rich depth of Christian tradition, I’ve been on the look out for points of connection—traditions and rituals both rooted in the historical Christian church and meaningful to my faith as a Messianic. The overlap between the calendars, to me, is one such point of connection.

Have you ever set aside a certain time or day to pray in concert with others (often regarding some particular subject matter)? When you commit to praying through Lent, you are doing just that, but on a much larger scale (and with much deeper roots). Each of these forty days, Christians everywhere are (and have for centuries) getting down on their knees to worship God for His work on the cross.

Entering into traditions like this moves me from an individual spirituality to a community faith. I’m entering into something bigger than myself, something I did not create. Even across our diverse denominations, I am finding ways to worship our one King through common practices. And that’s really cool to me—that I can join hands with a Lutheran, an Anglican, a Presbyterian, etc. and say with one voice “Jesus is Lord”.

3 - To Make Room for Yeshua

Life gets busy. We’re bombarded by work and distractions day in and day out. The rapid pace of modern life is stressful. It can be hard to maintain a devotional practice in such an environment.

Lent invites us to slow down and simplify. It’s a season of emptying ourselves, so that God can pour into us. What can I cut out to make room for my Messiah? That’s one of the questions I’m considering as I decide what to give up this year for these forty days.

Lent also gives us a chance to connect with Yeshua in a more intimate way by walking in His footsteps. Through this season we take on a fast of sorts just as Yeshua fasted in the wilderness for forty days. We share with the least of these as Yeshua poured into the outcast and needy and all who came to Him. And we pray. We pray that our hearts might be knit together with His, that we might know Him in His humility so that one day we can also know Him in His glory.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about—knowing Him. And that’s what I love about the Christian calendar. The whole thing is built around the life of Messiah. As we move through the various seasons of the year, the liturgical calendar takes us through the various seasons of Messiah’s life (We’re rehearsing and retelling the story of the Gospel again and again!)—inviting us to imitate Him, to reflect on His work, and to draw ever nearer to our God through the way made for us by our Messiah.

Have you every practiced Lent? What has been your experience? Is it something you’re considering but maybe have some reservations about? Share below.

(This article can also be found on the HFF blog)

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