Lent - a forty-day period of penance for all Christians!
“Lent is a season of individual and ecclesial reformation. Lent can be understood as a time to focus more intently on the elements that are always most foundational at all times of the year and throughout the Christian life.” (ELCA Worship Guide for Lent and the Three Days) Gregory the Great, a bishop of the late sixth and early seventh century, understood Lent as such a focused part of the year, calling the season (at forty days, roughly a tenth of the year) a “tithe of the year.” John Cassian, writing in the fifth century, could call Lent a “tithe of our lives.”
Forty days? For forty days it rained on the ark; Moses fasted on Mount Sinai; the spies scouted out Canaan Israel’s armies were taunted by Goliath; Elijah walked on the strength of the angel’s food to the mountain of God; Ezekiel lay on his right side; the inhabitants of Nineveh repented; Jesus wandered in the wilderness; and Jesus appeared after the resurrection. Forty is always the space between, the journey to God, the time it takes for us to see that God is already with us. So Lent is forty days - more or less, it depends on how you count - as together we enter into the biblical metaphor of a sacred span of time.
Gregory I, sixth-century pope said, “Multiply the ten commandments by the four gospels and you get forty; we perfectly fulfill the precepts of the ten commandments when we faithfully observe the four books of the holy gospels.”
Lent is such an important season in our church and in personal piety and devotional life of families. There are three classic Lenten disciplines: giving of alms to the poor, praying, and fasting.
Giving of alms to the poor:
We try to figure out what we will “give up” for Lent. You know, coffee, desserts, no meat - just fish on Fridays, and so on. While it is always a good practice to monitor ourselves, giving up coffee (or other things) is just not what sacrifice means. Although, I would admit giving up my coffee would seem like a huge sacrifice.
Let me suggest a couple of ideas for this Lenten season. Maybe this year you give money to the food pantry, or for the malaria campaign through the ELCA. Or perhaps you volunteer at the food bank, or the prison ministries. Maybe you could read to a class at the nearest public school or library.
There are devotional materials to use during this season for use in the home or for your personal use. I want to extend an invitation to all of you to participate in individual confession. I am posting the times that I will be in the office during the week for you to stop by or to schedule an appointment. (or evenings by appointment) This is for you to meet with me for individual confession and forgiveness. Individual confession and forgiveness is a ministry of this church through which a person is in conversation with the pastor and may confess sin and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness. As always, these confessions are confidential. Don’t fret, it is short and simple and you don’t need to feel embarrassed. After you participate in individual confession once you will return to do it again. I promise! Individual confession and forgiveness is such a burden lifting experience! Yes, we confess every Sunday in corporate confession. But individual confession is an extension of the spirituality we began in our last retreat. You will be amazed by the feeling of closeness to God you get in this experience.
Fasting, if it is done correctly, is a healthy thing to do for all of us (if your doctor says it is okay). However you decide to fast is up to you. Sometimes we give up certain foods or restrict the amount of food we eat. Some curtail the amount and expense of personal entertainment. Such attention to our pattern of self-indulgence can have several different intents: to bond us with those who suffer; to allow for more money for alms; or to prepare our bodies and our minds for the fullness of the Easter celebration by practicing its contrast. It is not necessary to fast for gaining God’s approval. These are behaviors that we choose to adopt to remind ourselves of the renewal of life that baptism calls forth. Whatever you choose to do for a fast, if you choose, is just for you. Make it personal. Make it spiritual for YOU!
The idea is for you to do something this Lenten season that you have not done before or have not done for years. Make Lent a special time for you. Take time to read the Bible, attend Bible studies, get to the different P.L.U.M. churches and take part in the activities each one has for Lent, and most of all - PRAY! Cozy up with God and read his words of redemption and salvation.
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773