I remember a time as a teenager when my youth pastor liked to joke about things he had given up for Lent. For example, if someone suggested that he wash his car or mow his lawn, his response would be, "I can't. I gave it up for Lent." I laughed every time I heard him make one of those jokes, even though it turned out that I really didn't get his punch line. Since I had no idea what the church season of Lent was, I thought that he was saying he had given up things for "lint." Like many things kids that age find humorous, I now realize that wouldn't have made any sense, but still my middle-school brain thought it was funny. I imagined my youth pastor sitting at home with his precious collection of lint rolled into a large ball, with his dirty car and tall weeds in the yard.
Thankfully, the church's season of Lent is something much more meaningful than that. Lent is about finding ways to return to God with our whole hearts. The things we do today, Ash Wednesday, are designed to give us concrete ways of beginning again our return to God. We pray; we read Scripture, including David's prayer of repentance from Psalm 51; we allow our pastors to place ashes in the sign of a cross on our foreheads to remind us that our lives in this age are fleeting, to mark us as the people of the crucified Messiah, and to remember that we are utterly dependent on the life that God gives us as a gift both today and forever. We invite God to search us and help us to see our sin, while trusting that he is full of compassion and mercy, and then we consider the ways that we can best arrange these lives he has given us around the invitation to come and adore him.
A Prayer for the Day:
O God, maker of every thing and judge of all that you have made, from the dust of the earth you have formed us and from the dust of death you would raise us up. By the redemptive power of the cross, create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit, that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (From The United Methodist Hymnal)
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]