So, What Is This Lent Thing?

Ask any good liturgical soul (like an Epis-copalian) what Lent is all about, and you’ll get dozens of answers. “It’s about giving up something because Christ gave up his life for us.” “It’s about being sorry for your sins in a special way.” “It’s about 40 days of denial, just like Jesus denied himself in the wilderness.” “It’s about priests wearing purple.”

All of that has a kernel to truth. Lent can be all of those things. But that’s really not why it started. Lent began for Early Christians as a way for us to walk with each other and not with Christ. Sorta.

When Christianity was first catching on, when it was often dangerous to be a Christian, becoming one took a lot longer than today — about three years. New converts would enter what was called the Catechumenate. This was a process of training, of learning, and of being ob-served by other Christians to become wor-thy of being baptized and of joining the Body of Christ.

During this time, catechumens would be allowed to come to the part of the service that included the reading of the Word of God, singing, and preaching. After that point, they would be invited to leave and go elsewhere for more instruction, while the congregation went off for the com-munion liturgy.

But eventually, enough time would pass so that the person was finally approaching baptism. Baptism was only done during the Easter Vigil, and the forty days before that were very special because the mem-bers of the congregation would spend those days walking closely with the cate-chumens. They would answer remaining questions. They would ask the catechu-mens to be really sure they wanted this thing to happen. They would help them discern their gifts for the church. They would encourage them, pray for them, and love them.

But most importantly they would help cat-echumens discern their relationship with God and with others and help them under-stand where they have fallen away from those relationships. They would then help them seek and find ways back to good re-lationships.

Over time, being a Christian was not as dangerous, and people were being baptized at a much earlier age. Fewer adults were baptized because most people were bap-tized as infants. But the idea of those forty days as a run-up to Easter still held sway in the church. So, gradually, the idea changed from Lent being a walk with oth-ers as a group, to a personal and private walk with Jesus. It focused more on indi-vidual sin than it did on relational aliena-tion. More on denial than on return. More on the imitation of Christ’s Passion than on his reconciliation.

You know what? That’s perfectly OK. I think we need to spend time focusing on all those things. We are broken people, and Lent affords us with the opportunity to ask forgiveness. But what if, this year, we chose someone and walked this Forty Days together? What if, this year, we had a companion to talk to, to confess to, to sup-port, and to learn from? What if we re-turned to those early days, trusting and open, exposing ourselves to the love of others. Vulnerable and loving and Chris-tian. If you did this, how would it change you?

Peace, Steve+


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