Lent is almost here. It usually does not affect us like Christmas and Easter. Lent is one of the important seasons in the church year, but not one of the most popular. Lent (the word means "lengthen," referring to the longer days after winter) begins on Ash Wednesday. It is often a service of ashes on the forehead, the repentance of sins and many other somber thoughts. Some people still think they should "give something up" and look like they are wasting away. Lent is not one of our favorite times of the year.
The call to repent is a part of Jesus' message - "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" It is disturbing, especially for the people who do not like the words sin and repentance and change and becoming different. Jesus is challenging us, but also promising us his presence and strength.
The concern is that many people have misunderstood what "repent" means for their lives. Some folks think it means "feel bad about yourself." It actually means, "Change direction. U-turns are permitted. Stop what you are doing and do something different. Choose a better path this time." New Testament scholar Thomas Wright wrote, "How you feel about life does not really matter. It is what you do with your life that is really important."
Jesus' message to the people of his day was that they were going in the wrong direction. They were trying to bring about change with violence. He was saying that you could not fight darkness with darkness and expect to produce light. The kingdom of God was not going to be built with the sword. If Israel was to be God's light in the world, Israel would have to start by that light now, in the midst of the darkness and before the darkness had been defeated. Tough, but possible, in Jesus' eyes!
Jesus' message of repentance to his contemporaries was not that they should feel sorry for personal sins, but that as a nation, they should stop the mad dash toward their own self destruction. Attack Roman violence with God's love. Be the kingdom of change. Be the kingdom of peace. Be God's kingdom of light in the midst of darkness. It is the light, no matter how small, that will make a difference in the world. (John1) It is the light that the gates of hell cannot destroy.
What can Lent mean to us? What can we change in our lives? Some of us have to think about the direction that our lives are taking right now. We may need to stop and think and then turn around in regard to our personal habits, use of time, commitment of the church and now look at your own list! Lent can be a time to look at our relationship with the world, our families and even ourselves.
Lent is about looking at what we are doing or not doing, about living in God's kingdom now. It is about attempting to be a light in the darkness.
I hope you have a blessed Lent, a life changing Lent, a hope filled Lent. It is a part of the journey called life. We will walk through the wilderness. We will never be alone. Jesus came that we might have a life filled with possibilities and his grace.
I look forward to that journey with you. It will be easier when you have someone else holding your hand.
William K. Dunlap