Lent: Honoring Christ, Reflecting the Gospel, and Deepening Our Worship
Today marks the beginning of the Lent season with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. Many of us who grew up in unchurched backgrounds or American evangelical backgrounds have not observed this tradition in the past. So naturally, some questions can arise around this time of year as to what Lent is, how it is observed, whether it is something that Christians should observe or reject, or if there are some aspects of the season that are worthy of observance?
What is Lent?
Traditionally observed, Lent is a forty-day period of fasting and reflection in preparation for Easter. As early as the 4th century A.D., Christian churches marked these weeks as a time of intentional discipleship, devotion, and anticipation. The resurrection of Christ served as the climax of the season. In that sense, it could be said that Lent is to Easter, what Advent is to Christmas — a season of expectation and thoughtful preparation focused around the person and work of Christ in redemption.
Over the centuries (particularly during the Middle Ages) the observance of Lent has sometimes drifted toward superstition and works-based righteousness. We would agree with the 16th century reformers who rightly rejected these excesses in so far as they were distortions of the gospel — arguing emphatically that there is nothing that can be added to our righteousness in Christ. The gospel tells us that we are made right with God in Christ through faith, plus NOTHING. And in that sense, we must be careful to not ascribe an elevated “spirituality” or seek to curate God’s favor through our performance or personal sacrifices. Rather Lent is an opportunity to tangibly reflect on the gospel in fresh ways, through means of grace like fasting and meditation. It’s as we set aside good things like food or media for a season, that we remind ourselves that Jesus is the truest and fullest satisfaction of our souls.
Although I don’t have the time to unpack a full theology of Lent and it’s various elements here, I do want to provide some helpful resources (listed at the bottom of the post) that have been of help to me in properly understanding how we might observe this season in a way that honors Christ, highlights the gospel, and deepens our worship.
How Do We Observe Lent?
As a church, we have celebrated Lent in a few ways over the years. Certainly as individuals, there are many in our church who leverage this season personally for their own discipleship. Collectively, we’ve walked through a special sermon series before (i.e. Lamentations) and incorporated special elements into our gatherings. Here are some of the ways we’re planning to observe Lent corporately this year:
- We’ll begin talking, praying, and planning toward Good Friday and Easter together with growing expectation.
- We’ll be preparing for baptisms on Easter morning! Baptisms were one of the first impetus’ for the observance of Lent, reminding us of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. If you are interested in being baptized, you can let us know and find more information HERE.
- We’ll pause more regularly for corporate confession together in our gatherings.
- We’ll sing songs specifically focusing our thoughts and worship on the cross/resurrection of Christ.
- We’ll continue to dig into Paul’s letter to the Galatians together each week, and consider the profound ways that the gospel frees us to genuine repentance and devotion to God, not for grace but from the grace we’ve already received through Jesus.
I’d invite you all to join us in intentionally using this season to 1) focus your worship, 2) tangibly remind yourself that Jesus is the ultimate treasure and comfort, 3) create space for Spirit-filled reflection and repentance, and 4) look with anticipation to the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that we will celebrate on Good Friday and Easter. We have been reconciled to God by grace through faith in Christ, now and forever. That’s good news worthy of reflection.
For Christ and the gospel,
- Journey to the Cross – an excellent devotional intended to capture the essence of Lent as a season of expectation for Easter. Highly recommended.
- Approaching Lent as a Reformed Christian – helpful considerations for how to celebrate Lent from a gospel-centered perspective.
- Yes and No: Lent and the Reformed Faith Today – an brief survey of how Lent originated as a means of discipleship within the church and has developed to our current day.