Lent’s arrived early this year, and not a moment too soon. It helps me, setting a few weeks aside for self-assessment, breaking my routine, contemplating the implications of my sinful, mortal nature, renewing my commitment to following Jesus, and generally giving my spiritual house a spring cleaning before Easter. I’ll probably fail at some or all of it, but this is about the journey, not keeping score, and recognizing my inability to self-help myself into holiness is part of the point of Lent, anyhow.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
– Joel 2:12-13
It’s not about making a symbolic gesture, earning Brownie points with God, or trying to fix myself. Lent is an attention step, a two-by-four upside the head of this recalcitrant mule that realigns my priorities and focus, reacquainting me with my desperate need for salvation and the unfathomable price that was paid for it.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says:
In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
– 2 Cor 5:20-6:2
As in years past, I’ll be using Creighton University’s Praying Lent website to help structure my Scripture reading and prayer during this time. It follows the Catholic liturgical readings for the season, but I think the site’s materials are perfectly accessible and useful for any Christian who chooses to observe Lent. Another resource I’ve found helpful, with readings and devotionals drawn from Wesleyan sources and aligned with The Book of Common Prayer, is Ashes to Fire, from Kansas City’s Beacon Hill Press.
This year, I want to particularly focus on following the steps of Jesus in those final days leading up to Easter. I’m planning to supplement my Scripture reading during Lent with the second volume of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI’s, Jesus of Nazareth, which walks through the events of Holy Week, from the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, through the Passion and Crucifixion, to the Resurrection.
Great smoking thuribles, Fred, another Catholic book? Are you going
turbo Papist on us? No, I’m not “crossing the Tiber.” I simply enjoyed the first volume very much, and the second seemed like a perfect fit for a Lenten read this year. Authorities on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide affirm the quality of Joseph Ratzinger’s theological work in general, and these books in particular. I find him both insightful and readable. I think I’ll post a series of personal reflections and observations about my reading along the way, so If you’d like to join me in reading or have read the book already, please jump into the comments and we can talk about it.