Lenten Study: Week 1
Lent is a story of the journey of the people of God. It is the story of us, or more appropriately “God with us.”
During the season, we remember the ancient Hebrews’ journey from slavery in Egypt and a generation spent wandering in the wilderness. We also re-enact, in our own small ways, Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil. The fast that many Christians commit to during Lent is a reflection of the 40- day fast Jesus undertook during this time.
In the sacred time of Lent, we are the Hebrews – wandering in the desert, living in awareness of our dependence on God, and having our faith tested in uncertain times. In the sacred time of Lent, we are Jesus – alone in the wilds of the world, purifying ourselves through the discipline of fasting, and facing head-on the temptations of the world.
Lent is a journey, or a series of journeys, but what we often forget is the part that comes after the journey. The Hebrews weren’t just wandering through the wilderness; they were being prepared to be the people of God in their new land. Jesus wasn’t merely retreating to the desert; he was prepping for the start of his ministry.
In our own Lenten season, we turn inward, reflecting on our dependence on God’s grace. But the disciplines of Lent are not the end of the journey. Through the four practices of Lent – repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving, and works of love – we turn inward so that we may turn outward, toward God and our neighbors. Marked by ashes at the start, we enter the 40 days of Lent with penitent hearts and awareness of our need for God’s mercy. Repentance and self-reflection are important practices, but it’s easy to stay here, forgetting that the season is about so much more than our own self-examination.
Martin Luther captured this well. Luther defined repentance in two ways: “Repentance... consists in contrition, and in the serious acknowledgment of sin, and in taking hold of the promise.” And again: “There are two elements in true repentance: recognition of sin and recognition of grace.”
Being marked by ashes, fasting, confession, and other penitent practices of Lent invite us to turn inward. But the spiritual practices of Lent also lead us to turn outward, “taking hold of the promise” of God as we practice the other Lenten disciplines: sacrificial giving and works of love for our neighbors. It is the proclamation of this promise that concludes Jesus’ time in the wilderness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
We are formed in the disciplines of Lent to be church – together and for the sake of the world. After a generation in the wilderness, the Hebrews came to the promised land as a people consecrated by God to be a “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). After facing down temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee and declared the “good news” to the people (Luke 4:18). The journey is not the end of the story, for them or for us.
ELCA World Hunger, as a ministry of this church, is shaped by the Lenten disciplines. In repentance, we recognize the ways sin continues to disrupt communities and contribute to hunger and poverty. Through the ancient practices of prayer and fasting, we are renewed in our commitment to “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). By sacrificial giving, we support ministries around the world that give our neighbors a chance at new life and livelihoods. And in works of love, we accompany our neighbors toward a just world where all are fed.
In Lent, we “take hold of the promise” of God’s grace together, knowing that the road does not end at Calvary but at an empty tomb – and the assurance of new life for us, for our neighbors and for all of God’s creation.
There are four disciplines, or spiritual practices, that guide our time during Lent. Use the questions and prompts below to reflect on the Lenten disciplines: repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving, and works of love.
What are some of the challenges that make it difficult to focus on your neighbors?
PRAYER AND FASTING
What fast will you choose this Lent? How will your prayers and fasting help remind you of the needs of your neighbors during the season?
How will you support your neighbors through ELCA ministries this season? Consider committing to a giving goal for Lent, setting a portion aside each day until Palm Sunday.
WORKS OF LOVE
Martin Luther reminds us that we are not saved by works – but grace does call us to offer our works with joy and gratitude to our neighbors in need. How might you “take hold of the promise” this Lent by your works of love for others?