Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent in the Christian year is a period of 40 days in which we look forward with anticipation to the celebration and joy of Easter. The 40 days of prayer, fasting and self-reflection has its origin in the biblical stories of the flood and the years of wilderness wanderings by Moses and the Hebrew people. The heart of Lent has its foundation in scriptures like Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
So Lent is a time when we seek to be honest with ourselves about who we are, how we are living, about our relationship with our family, friends and neighbors and about our relationship with God. We seek God’s help in making this kind of self-examination, because left to our own self-knowledge we will fail. None of us are very good at seeing ourselves as we really are. It takes the Holy Spirit to guide us on this journey.
Of course, most of us would rather delight in the misdeeds of others. In fact, we live today in a culture which reveals the sin of others all day long on our 24/7 news outlets. Focusing on the details of the sinfulness of others occupies much of our attention. And we look at sin as primarily external in character.
But as Christians – especially Wesleyan believers – we know that sin is much more internal than external in nature. Our sin comes from the heart and mind. What we do and say speaks volumes about what we feel and think. St. Paul knew this human reality when he said in Romans, “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.”
That is one of the many reasons that we need the Church – the Community of Believers. Left on our own, it will be impossible to ever understand our own lives and motivations. Within the Church – the Body of Christ – we can lean on God and others to help us become the persons the Lord wants us to be. God’s vision for our lives can be realized. In the Church we can come to understand the conditions which create so many of our behaviors. We are surrounded by others who are on the same journey as we are, and we can love and lead each other to spiritual maturity. And it is in the Church that we can discover anew God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy – God’s willingness to not only forgive us but to absolutely blot out our sin – and it is in the church that we can fall more deeply in love with our Savior, Jesus. May this Lenten Season be such a time for you and me.