Look up “Lent” on Google and you will probably find out all you want about Lent – how it started, why it is named “Lent,” what we are to do, why we do what we do, etc. For many people, it is the most holy season of the church year. For other people, they don’t even know what Lent is all about. For others, they know it starts on Ash Wednesday, it lasts for forty days, excluding Sundays, and ends on Easter Sunday. And for others, who think of the calendar significance of Lent, they know there are a couple special days at the end of Lent, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Furthermore, we know that in the secular world, Lent has its own significance. In certain areas of this nation, the culture acknowledges Lent by celebrating Mardi Gras before Lent, to have a big bash of a party and then to discipline one’s self during the Lenten period.
The questions are: What does Lent mean to you? How does it affect you? Why? Is there a personal component to Lent?
Because of the church calendar and its selection of gospel texts to help guide us during the Lenten season, we may secure some answers, if we wish to. Of course, every Lenten season begins with the story of Jesus being tempted immediately after his baptism. This year, during Lent, we focus on the gospel of Matthew. However, there is a unique series of gospel stories this year. After the temptation of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, we turn to the gospel of John. We hear four stories from this unique gospel. The first story, in Chapter 3 of the gospel, tells about Nicodemus coming to visit Jesus by night. The second, from Chapter 4, is the story of Jesus visiting the Samaritan woman at the well. The third Sunday, from Chapter 9, Jesus heals the blind man. The final week, from Chapter 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from death.
In the first story, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In the second story the townspeople say, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world." In the third story the conversation between Jesus and the blind man ends with Jesus asking the blind man, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. And finally, Jesus says to Martha, in the fourth story, before raising Lazarus from death, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Yes, these stories and the season of Lent are opportunities to deepen our desire to believe in Jesus and with the results of being open to the Spirit, we will experience eternal life, not after death but as we experience our human journey as spiritual beings.
In all of John, and especially in these stories, we find that Jesus is calling us into relationship, a relationship with him that then expands to a relationship with others as we deepen our commitment to him. This belief, this relationship comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. It comes through death, dying to self. This is the story of Lazarus. This is the story of humanity. This is the story of our life in Christ. We die to self. We are raised to a new life in Jesus Christ.
This is a meaning for Lent. It is a highly spiritual meaning. It is a personal meaning. It is a relational meaning. It is a process, not a result. Through this discipline of Lent and our relationship with Jesus, we experience the resurrection of Easter.