All of these practices are good but Hosea reminds me not to forget what the season of Lent is really about. Penitential practices are one thing. Penance, repentance, returning to God is something else. The practices are there to draw us toward repentance and they can be a way of demonstrating the change of thinking required to turn back to God but Hosea’s words are a warning to us all. We need Lent because, like Israel, we frequently collapse spiritually because of our guilt. Lent is a time to cast ourselves upon a loving God. If I have spent a good part of the year trusting in the work of my hands, my little gods, then Lent reminds me that there is only one God and that what God wants from me is me. That includes trusting him to bear fruit in my life. I cling to things because I think that they will bring fulfillment and joy when only God can satisfy the hungry soul.
Today’s psalm reminds me of the story of the Book of Exodus. Christians are familiar with the 10 Commandments but how many have thought about the narrative that precedes them? Exodus 19 and even the beginning of chapter 20 where the commandments are listed make it clear that the commandments come after the saving acts of God on behalf of his people. God does not just appear and say, as in the psalm, “I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.” No, he relieves burdens, frees shackled hands, rescues people in distress, and brings his people out of slavery. Only then does he say, Listen to me. How could a grateful people do otherwise?
Finally, Lent is about growing in our love for God and our neighbor. Jesus teaches that these are the greatest of the commandments. To love is worth more than all of the offerings, sacrifices, and penitential practices that we could do for the next thousand years. But Jesus is not speaking of a cheap love. It is a love with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. This is the life lived in the kingdom of God. This is truly Lent.
There is a joke among the Eastern Orthodox believers that you can always tell who the new converts are; they are the ones looking forward to Lent. It is true that the Orthodox disciplines during Lent are a good deal more stringent than the Catholic ones but I guess I am still one of those converts. Lent includes discipline, penance, and self-denial but it is primarily a season that draws me closer to God. It is a time of great joy.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook