Lent: A period of prayer, self-examination and repentance
The season of Lent, the forty days before Easter, commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent praying in the Judaean desert after being baptised by John the Baptist, before His public ministry (Matthew 4: 1-2). At Lent, we also remember the 40 years the people of Israel spent wandering in the desert. Lent has traditionally been the season in which Christians focus on the call to ongoing repentance and change. Lent is also a call to humility, as we remember our mortality and need for God.
Lent is not intended to make us feel terrible about ourselves. During Lent, we focus on prayer, self-examination, and repentance, not in order to feel guilty, but in order to clear space for God to work in our lives. Some find that giving something up – a favourite food, a bad habit – helps to open that space for God and serves as a constant reminder of God’s presence. Others find it more helpful to take on something new – ten minutes of prayer, a daily walk, or some other spiritual practice.
During Lent, we embark upon a journey of discovery. We learn to turn away from narrow self-interest and toward God’s promise of redemption through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is telling us that our fasting and Lenten discipline is done for the sake of our relationship with God alone. During Lent, energy that might otherwise would have been directed elsewhere is focused on God. That is what fosters spiritual growth. When you are fasting, there is tendency for you to apologise to someone you have wronged faster than when you are not fasting. You will always be marked by self-absorbed attitudes and behaviours and by uncaring treatment of others. You recognise your errors timely. You admit your remorse and the need to express regrets. Isaiah speaks of living on the part of Israel, whose people have acted according to self-interest more than God-interest. They have focused on their own desires and overlooked God’s desires for them. Disobedient, sinful, and self-righteous, they stood in need of contrition and pardon.
The Israelites recognised their condition and need. They responded in ways that continued to miss the mark and perpetuate self-absorbed living. In (Isaiah 58:3a), the people ask of God “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” – to which the prophet replies, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers” (v.3b-4). The prophet continues, calling the Israelites out for their quarreling among themselves and their practice of rituals empty of what God truly desires.
Then, what God truly desires is named: “Is this not the fast that I choose: to lose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” What God desires of them, the prophet declares, is to share food with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into their homes, to provide clothing to the naked, and to welcome others as their own kin. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly” (vs.5–8).
Archbishop Ogunseye, The African Church
22/23 Free Man Street Ebute-metta, Lagos
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