Lent is a 40-day period in the church calendar that ends on the Saturday before the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. The last week of Lent is called ‘Holy Week’, the solemn week leading up to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for our sins on Good Friday. Mirroring our Lord’s 40-day fast in the wilderness before he began his public ministry, Lent is a season of identifying with Christ and His sufferings, of re-orientating our motives, priorities, commitments to God through fasting, both from food and festivities or abstaining from ‘treats’, habits and activities like social media, internet etc.
This year, Lent started on Wednesday 6 March and will conclude on Saturday 20 April. For those with an eye for detail, that amounts to 46 days! However, six of those days are Sundays. As each Sunday represents a ‘mini-Easter and is considered a feast day, they are, therefore, omitted from Lent.
Traditionally, we understand Lent to be a time where we focus on our relationship with God, to grow closer to God but I want to suggest to us that Lent also has an outward focus. Think about why Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness. Was it just a ‘spiritual retreat’, an extended time in prayer and fasting in preparation for public ministry? I think it was that and much more.
Matthew tells us that Jesus went into the wilderness to go head to head with Satan himself (Matthew 4:1), to tell him that where Adam disobeyed and brought death to humanity, He would obey God, even unto death and bring life to humanity. In the wilderness, Jesus overcame Satan through his obedience to God. While His battle with Satan would continue, in the wilderness, Jesus dealt him a decisive blow.
At stake in the confrontation was the eternal welfare of humanity! Jesus was fasting and praying not just to be in communion with God but it was to ‘loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke’, to share ‘food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood’ (Isaiah 58:6-7).
Lent is an invitation to draw closer to God but don’t stop there. Why not consider fasting and praying a day this week on behalf of your family, friends, neighbours who are struggling or in need of Jesus and the ‘shalom’ He offers?