The Beautiful Simplicity of Lent

By

Lent is an opportunity to pare back our overstuffed lives, to return to simplicity and awareness of the Holy Spirit, to share in a small way the sufferings of the saints, and to receive once again the gospel of Christ, who took the entire penalty of our depravity, “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

Lent is not a hopeful call to a busy line but a thank-you letter to a fulfilled promise. We keep a holy Lent with the whole church across the world and through time, not because we serve a trickster god who requires a specific ritual to garner his attention, but because we want to give the utmost reverence and worship to our Creator who made the gospel so simple for humanity that He joined in humanity Himself!

Sponsored

An Early Memory of Lent

I distinctly remember Lent from my childhood. Not because I participated in it, but because every year, I saw my friends come into school late on Wednesday with ashes on their forehead, and every Friday, I would get a free pepperoni sandwich from a friend whose mother accidentally packed meat in their lunchbox.

Lent was a mystery to me, something only my Catholic and Episcopal friends seemed to do and something that had no grounding in my reformed theological framework. To me, Lent was just one of an endless list of rituals. Another attempt to get God’s attention or, worse, an excuse to justify abhorrent behavior for the other 320 days of the year (which, to be fair, is far too common for many). But, as rituals tend to do, I was nonetheless intrigued and looked forward to the annual season of free sandwiches.

My Journey Into Lent

It wasn’t until years later that I came to learn what Lent was and embrace it myself. During college, I was surrounded by many friends who practiced Lent (particularly many Anglicans). At the same time, I was working on my Church History degree and learning just how rich the tradition is. A friend invited me to join him for Lent during this time, and I did.

And I failed. Whether it was giving into temptation, rearranging the rules in my head, or downright forgetting about it entirely, my first experience with Lent was met with frustration and failure. I remember thinking angrily, “Why can’t I get this right?” Little did I know that in my frustration and failure, I was living out the very purpose of the season: to remind us that we are sinners and need to repent!

Lent is a beautiful, ancient tradition filled with sacrifice, confession, prayer, and perseverance leading up to Easter. It is the introduction to the Eastertide, one of only two major cycles in the liturgical calendar (that’s right, Anglicans get 50 days of Easter). But if we’re not careful, we can mistake this period intended to “remind us, humble us, and take us back to the foot of the cross” for a trial that confuses us, frightens our souls, and makes us question our position as recipients of God’s everlasting grace.

Lent in Student Ministry

Today, I serve at a wonderful Anglican parish as director of student ministries. In my short time here, I have been blessed with a church family whose love shows powerfully and a wonderful ministry of students who are much more acquainted with ancient liturgy than I was at their age. And one thing that my students do understand is Lent. Every year, they prepare with their families, deciding between giving up Mountain Dew, cookies, or ice cream, and they enter the season strongly.

As I observed this up close for the first time, it led me to some reflection. How are my students perceiving Lent? In a world where our cultural liturgy praises individualism and self-service, what message is being sent by submitting oneself to inconvenience and servanthood? Do my students see Lent as a cultural sign of weakness, or share in my childhood perception as a festival of competing for God’s attention?

I hope that my students, and all of us, are motivated not by fear or even tradition to practice Lent but by the Holy Spirit, by an intense desire to know God better, to “draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). For my students, Lent should not be about making their family happy or following whatever their friends are doing, but instead by a deep desire to know God and develop a stronger love for their Creator and Sustainer.

I want my students to find comfort in their failures (and there will be failures), knowing they humbly bring them to the feet of the Savior. I pray that my students are motivated not by their competitive nature but by an eagerness to finish what they started as an act of worship and thanksgiving to God in unity with the global church.

The Beautiful Simplicity of Lent

Lent is not a chore of necessity. Lent is not an annual fee to earn one more year of God’s love and affection. Lent is a holy privilege, a gift from the church to join Jesus in His hunger pains in the wilderness, an opportunity to reflect on the grace given to us by God that has fundamentally changed our hearts, to listen to and discern the Holy Spirit as He guides us into the divine privilege (not mere responsibility) of godly living. As another Anglican Compass article puts it:

Lent is not about reminding God that he should forgive us, or trying to please him enough to forgive us, or to prove something to God. Instead, it’s about reminding us that we worship a God who loved us enough to take away our sins, and who always will!

Lent may seem complex, but it points to something simple. Lent responds to the gospel’s beautiful simplicity (and finality). Because God gives us the simple, free gift of salvation, we respond with beautiful, orchestrated, and sometimes difficult acts of worship. The liturgy and sacrifice of Lent is not a desperate plea for the ear of a busy God but a holy celebration of the God who so faithfully called us out of our sin and wickedness and “into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).


Image by Coompia for Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

March 29, 2023

Author

Andrew Bass

Andrew Bass is the Director of Student Ministries for St. Francis Anglican Parish in Sanford, NC, and a master’s student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

View more from Andrew Bass

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

6 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments