I Googled “Explain Lent”

I Googled, “Explain Lent” 
Pastor’s Ponderings – April 2019
I googled “explain lent.” Google answered, “past and past participle of lend.” I asked Siri to “explain lent” and Siri said, “A verb, past and past participle of lend.” Siri then asked me, “Would you like to hear the next definition?” “Yes,” I said. Siri told me, “Lent, a noun, is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday.” If you are confused by what “Lent” means, so are google and Siri.
Lent is always in our springtime of the year. It is reasonable to think of “Lent” and “Spring Cleaning” in the same category of “new beginnings”, or “a fresh start.” For people of the Christian faith, Lent is a season to clean-out our heart and life to get ready to celebrate Easter. Easter is a celebration of Life! It is the celebration of Jesus’ life that triumph’s over death. Despite the hate and injustice that Jesus faced, he taught love for all people and the importance of all people.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday starts a 40-day countdown to Easter (minus Sundays). The 40 days remind us of Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil for 40 days. A modern Christian tradition is receiving the sign of the cross on your forehead in ashes during worship. It is meant to be a sign of our own commitment and recognition of participating in Lent. The ashes represent our connection with the earth and the finitude of our life. Although there is beauty in this Lenten ritual, there is a waning interest in this worship experience and many churches are not offering it at all. It is something our staff will be considering next year when we plan Lent.
During the Ash Wednesday worship service, I preached on Ezekiel 37, the Valley of Dry Bones. In the front of the church, on the chancel table and shelf are drift wood and rocks to remind us of the emptiness of our life without God’s spirit. I encourage you to read Ezekiel 37 for the vision of broken and empty humanity. The prophet, Ezekiel, is reminded that he can cry out to God and be brought back to life. The dry bones of the valley are mended and returned to life, just as we can be restored by the grace and love of God. This is not a literal story but a story about the nature of God’s spirit always seeking us and waiting for us to call upon God.
Last month I shared about the sermon series during Lent on spiritual practices that connect us with God. The tradition during Lent is to fast from something. Beckie Henselmeier is fasting from a different thing each week of Lent. One week she is fasting from all news and social media. One week she is fasting from any beverage that isn’t water. One week she is fasting from food for a whole day. Be sure to ask Beckie about the other things she is fasting from during the season and what it means to her.
The most important thing about spiritual practices is to plan ahead, and hold God in your heart or mind during the practice or ritual. If you fast but do not pray, or reflect on God, it is simply starving yourself and going hungry. If you practice the spiritual discipline of keeping silence, but do not claim the silence as time for God, it is simply the absence of sound and talking. If you give generously to the church, but do not pray for the work to be done using those funds and the people who will be touched by your financial gift, it is just a tax benefit. All of these are good, but not all things deepen your faith.
Spiritual practices are literally ways to practice your faith. Musicians know they have to practice to be good at music. Anyone who plays a sport knows they have to practice their sport and keep physically fit. In the same way, Christians have to practice their faith to grow in our relationship with God. God never leaves us, but our ability to recognize God in our life is greatly enhanced by the effort we make.
May God continue to bless you richly this season,
Rev. Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw

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