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On faith: What is Lent?

Pastor Susan Berge

Knife River Lutheran Church

For those Christians who are a part of a liturgical church tradition, we are now in the season of Lent, a 40-day period of time that leads to Holy Week and Easter. Lent began on Ash Wednesday, which was March 5 this year, and many Christians will use this time as an opportunity to focus more intensely on the meaning of Christ’s journey towards death and the cross and on His resurrection. Even for those familiar with the seasons of the church year, there can be some confusion about the purpose of liturgical seasons like Lent, and that is certainly true for those who are not a part of a liturgical tradition. What is the purpose of observing the seasons of the Christian church year? Perhaps the following metaphor might prove helpful:

Think of the liturgical church year of seasons as a gift from God, and imagine viewing this church year through the lens of a camera. Pentecost, which occupies the bulk of the year, runs from Pentecost Sunday, which often falls in May, until Advent, which generally comes early in December. This is the longest season of the church year, and it extends throughout the late spring, all of summer, and early autumn. This season, as seen through a camera, utilizes a wide-angle lens, and is a time of broad focus on the life and work of Jesus and on the discipleship of the church. Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is the like the family photo album, with all of us gathered and preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ. During Christmastide and Epiphany, the seasons following Christmas Day, the lens is trained on the early life and work of Jesus. Then comes Lent, our current season, and the lens zooms in for a tight focus on our relationship with the God who made, loves, and sustains us.

Lent is a time for us to strip away the accumulated layers of things that distract us from what’s at the core of our very being — the gospel news that God who loves us has reached out and taken hold of us and will not let go. God’s gift of Christ draws us back to God in spite of all we have done to put distance in between us. Lent is really about focusing in on that distance, on the ways we continue to turn away from God and on our need and desire to turn back to God.

Because of this, Lent is sometimes experienced as a more serious time of the church year, when we are not afraid to confront the realities of sin, brokenness and death, as we look to God for forgiveness, grace and life.

During Lent, many will follow the ancient practice of a spiritual discipline. The three most significant of such disciples are fasting, praying, and charitable giving. It helps to remember that such things are not done in order to make us better people; Lent is not a self-improvement project! Rather, we do these things to practice a discipline that leads us to rely on God and to become more aware of our soul’s well-being.

Here is something to remember: if Lent is a lens, it’s a lens focused on Easter. We go through Lent for the sake of arriving at the empty tomb on Easter morning and rejoicing in the news of Christ’s resurrection. The journey to the cross leads inevitably to the journey to the empty tomb.

Pastor Susan Berge is minister of Knife River Lutheran Church. She and her husband live in Duluth.