This week sees the beginning of Lent. What is it? What’s it for?
The story goes that before Jesus accepts the call to follow God’s will for his life, he spends a period of 40 days wrestling with his decision. He is tempted to follow other paths – paths leading to wealth, to power, to fame. But after the 40 day struggle is over he rejects them, and sets off to do God’s will.
Lent is a sort of re-enactment of that. For 40 days Christians are meant to examine themselves, their lives; perform a sort of self-audit. We’re supposed to get ready to rededicate ourselves to following God’s will in our lives.
These days, that comes down to people taking up an activity for Lent –attending a study course, supporting a charity. Or they choose to go without something – chocolate, alcohol, coffee. It’s meant as a discipline, to aid that process of self-examination.
Lent culminates in Holy Week, with Jesus being arrested, tried, crucified and dying. It’s the darkest moment in the Christian story. And for us it’s reflected in the accumulation of all that self-examination: after 40 days we’re ready to accept just how flawed we are – as individuals and as a society.
But deep as that darkness may be, it’s followed quickly by Easter morning, when God raises Christ to new life. Light conquers darkness, hope conquers despair, life conquers death. And lifted up by that renewed understanding of our faith, we recommit ourselves to follow God’s way, a way not marked by flaws.
I like Lent. I like that it forces me to think about myself, about the world I live in. I like that it forces me to face up to all that is wrong and in need of change. I think I, like most people, benefit from a piece of serious self-audit.