We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. So stand strong in that freedom. Don’t go back into slavery again.
-Paul, Galatians 5:1
Yesterday Lent began. If you need a reminder, Lent is the 40 day season of the Christian calendar leading to the Easter celebration. It parallels the very human journey of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days in Luke 4. I used to ignore Lent, but now I see it as one of the best opportunities for growing closer to Jesus.
Hundreds of years ago in the villages of medieval Europe it was common to mark the beginning of Lent with a huge bonfire in the middle of town. The fuel for the fire was whatever people could find that wasn’t needed. Bonfires were made of old broken wheels, dead bushes, furniture with missing parts, and other useless items left over in everyone’s houses after being cooped up all winter. I can also imagine that there were clothes and items that had become covered with the diseases of winter, which needed to be cleansed for the health of everyone. The fire was a statement of passion in direct opposition to the drudgery of winter's dirt, disease, and clutter. It was time to look forward to spring.
Lent is a time for self-reflection and slow transformation. I keep going back to the bonfires of Europe because in the northeast this year, most of us are feeling the effects of the long, cold winter. It’s been cold and dark for too long. We are so ready for a change! But the change is indeed coming with the approaching spring. The earth will become new again, as the dead branches give way to new buds and the chill is removed from the air. That will all happen in a few weeks, regardless of what we do.
However, the clutter and numbness that builds up in our spirits are a different story. That only gets burned off and warmed up if we make a choice. The weeks of Lent are the time to choose what needs to be put in the bonfire. When you think about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, what are the distractions and hangups in your life that need to go in order to really party on April 21st?
What needs to be tossed out?
What are the diseased clothes to be burned?
What needs to be forgiven? What needs to be turned from?
How can we prepare ourselves for the beauty of God’s coming season?
What are the things that bring you immense joy to imagine burning away?
(You could go in a really dark direction with that question. Don’t do that.)
Bonfires are a passionate expression of life. In the flicker of the flame there is often laughter and dancing and food and celebration. That’s how it still is every Lent in Belgium and Northern France. Something gets freed in the letting go of things that have gotten in the way.
When I was a kid I burned stuff in my garage all the time. Most of the time my parents didn’t know. Gel deodorant gave off a dazzling blue dripping flame. Socks mostly just melted and made a lot of smoke. It wasn’t a great habit, but it sure was fun.
What if you did something a little quirky today? What if you marked a new season with a concrete action?
I invite you to choose one specific thing that you're asking Jesus to burn away in your life. Identify some soul clutter that is hindering you from moving around freely with God.
Then, find something to actually burn as a symbol of that. Seriously.
Don’t do it inside, though. And apparently garages count as inside.
Of course, you could do all this in your mind if it sounds juvenile. But lighting something on fire is so much more fun.
Jesus is leading us from winter into spring. It’s time thaw out and come alive in a new way. So, what’s one place to start?
Jesus, help me identify what needs releasing, and give me strength to do it.