Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. [...]
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...
Luke 4:1-2, 14
Last year, the season of Lent began on February 26th, 2020...
We had no idea, did we?
Lent is the 40 day journey of fasting and self reflection (excluding Sundays, which are always intended to symbolize resurrection) leading up to the Easter celebration. It's a time for stripping away, to join Jesus in his desert experience, and to trust God in new ways.
As such, people often "give up" something for lent, learning to rely on God deeply in the struggle, and find deep contentment in God's provision.
Two weeks into Lent last year, we found ourselves in a season of giving up that was beyond our control on a worldwide scale. It was unlike anything most of us have experienced. We gave up a lot of physical interactions and a lot of our usual church rhythms. We gave up predictability and relaxed moments in public. Many of us gave up health, and we gave up loved ones to this pandemic.
This year has been a living lent.
And today, we walk into into a new season of Lent (the Limited Edition official version). I'm not sure if I'm up for giving up any more. How about you?
Well, maybe we're in luck. Maybe, us silly humans, we miss the point of this whole thing. And maybe we need to give up the giving up.
As disciples of Jesus, "giving up" is never the end goal for its own sake. The giving up of lent is about being freed in new ways to follow Jesus. It's to release what hinders us, or what distracts us from God's goodness and trustworthiness. Fasting, according to Jesus and the full witness of scripture, is to bring our spirits into closer communion with God (Luke 4:4), and our hands into clearer expressions of compassion and justice (Isaiah 58). The purpose is the soul-shaping we receive from God, not what we release.
And although we intentionally practice this through self-initiated fasting, the same truth can apply even in times of a forced "giving up." All that we've experienced this year-- all the stripping down--is still an opportunity to receive deeper formation in Jesus, if we don't give up.
Unfortunately, when we are forced to give up some things, the temptation can be to give up all things. And I see that sort of resignation happen a lot. Sometimes I feel it in me.
A friend of mine has a child in prison. She can't visit him because of COVID. Something precious has been taken away. That could lead to giving up in despair, and doing nothing. But instead, being shaped by Jesus, it has led to writing letters- not just to her child, but to many others who are incarcerated without much encouragement or hope from the outside. Others are joining in. It's starting a compassion movement.
When we have to give something up, we can choose to give up completely, or to let Jesus transform us.
Luke says Jesus emerges from his days in the desert, "in the power of the Holy Spirit." What is power? It's a force that allows you to do things. Jesus wasn't simply full of the Holy Spirit anymore... he was going to be more powerful-- more effective-- than ever.
So this lent, maybe what needs to be released to God is the mentality that this lingering season is meaningless.
I know it feels difficult to lean into. But don't give up. Don't give up what it means to be in the Body of Christ, regardless of the form your church gatherings have right now. And don't give up the faith that Jesus will shape you into an effective ambassador of his kingdom, if you open yourself up to that soul-shaping work daily.
It's still winter. But spring is on the way. The barrenness of lent is the path toward the lushness of resurrection.
Jesus, draw me into a fresh intentionality of prayer, hope and compassion as I walk with you in the desert.