By Janné Grover, Disciple Formation Ministries
It’s easy to have a cynical attitude regarding the benefit of Lenten disciplines. Does giving up chocolate for 40 days (minus the Sunday oases) really lead a person deeper into their call and commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ? If giving something up, or adding something to, our daily living is good for Lent; shouldn’t we be doing it all the time? I have wrestled with these questions. I’ve had the cynical attitude; but I have discovered rich layers of meaning and formation through Lenten encounter. Each experience of Lent leads me more deeply into the next. It is not simply the “giving up” or “adding to” that makes Lent meaningful. In fact, we must be careful not to let fasting and almsgiving reflect self-righteousness or self-centered privilege. Allowing our Lenten journey to shape us as disciples opens us to more fully receive again the Easter gift. Our response to Christ-like ministry is shaped in new ways when we align our deepest longings with the stubborn hope that Christ makes real in the world.
Jesus invites us into this intentional rhythm of Spirit-led ministry, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Claimed by the Spirit’s presence in baptism (Luke 3:21–22), Jesus is led by the Spirit into his wilderness experience (Luke 4:1). Filled with the Spirit, he emerges from the wilderness encounter to proclaim his mission with, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). In his wilderness experience, Jesus was tempted by the powers of the world, to which he responded with his sacred “No.” His statement of mission honors the people and circumstances to which he offers his sacred “Yes!” Exploring the deep places of our soul is not an “ordinary time” practice. Wilderness explorations are extraordinary. They cause us to look authentically at our deepest soul places and our tendencies toward resistance. Practices of sacred restraint help us focus on what matters most; to what and whom we offer our sacred “no,” as well as our sacred and joyful “Yes!” Lenten disciplines reinforce our need for life-rhythms that reflect the joy, love, peace, sorrow, and stubborn hope embodied in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Author Ted A. Smith writes, “Lent is a kind of spring training for Ordinary Time.” In the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is when we focus on our call as disciples through Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Lent is a time for focused spiritual renewal and deepening commitment to what it means to follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. This time of renewal and deepened commitment shapes how we are able to magnify our calling to Christ-like ministry. Lenten practices help guide and shape our response to loosening the bonds of injustice, freeing the oppressed, caring for the homeless poor and hungry, and nurturing right relationships (adapted from Isaiah 58:6–7). This is at the heart of the call for all disciples—to accept Christ’s mission as our mission. The words have become so familiar to us it is easy to think we have been fully formed in our understanding. But “God has work for us to do” (“Till All the Jails Are Empty,” Community of Christ Sings 303). There is deep, soul-tending, disciple-forming work for each of us to do. This work is not so that individuals can bask in self-righteousness. The work of Lent guides us to more fully and authentically engage in the world-changing mission of embodied Easter hope.