Part 2 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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Lent is odd.
There are several reasons for this. One has to do with the length of Lent. If you were to ask people how long Lent is, you’d probably hear “forty days.” This period of time is usually connected to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, which lasted forty days (Mark 1:13). The length of Jesus’ wilderness time is itself based on the forty years in which Israel wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Exod 16:35). So Lent is a kind of wilderness experience for Christians, a forty-day period of focusing and fasting, a time of preparation for something momentous.
But if you were actually to count the number of days in Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, you’d get a total of forty-six days. You might wonder if Christians are really so bad at counting days as it seems. In fact, the Lenten season does include forty-six days, but the six Sundays during Lent are not counted in the number. There are different reasons for this odd enumeration of Sundays. The one I’ve heard most commonly is that Sunday is a day for remembering and celebrating Christ’s resurrection, and this means that Sunday’s don’t really reflect Lenten themes.
Lent is also an odd season because it’s not correlated with anything in popular culture that sets it apart. This may well be for the best. But it means that Lent doesn’t get much attention. By contrast, the season of Advent contains plenty of reminders that something special is on the way, namely Christmas. Lent, on the contrary, is largely ignored in our society. You don’t tend to hear Lenten carols playing in the malls during the month of March. Stores aren’t expecting much of a boost in sales because of Lent. No economic stimulus here. (Some restaurants do promote special Lenten fare. I noted the following sign last year at the Luby’s in Kerrville, Texas. This Luby’s is now closed. I guess the Lenten promo didn’t work well enough.)
Most of us won’t be hearing Lenten music in our homes, either. In fact, most of us probably don’t own recordings of music for Lent. We might not even be able to name any specifically Lenten music. And if we could identify music that’s suitable for Lent, it might not be something we would want to hear for an entire forty days (or forty six, counting the Sundays). You don’t get to do much decking of the halls in Lent. No joy to the world, either.
Lent is odd in the sense that it is culturally peculiar. It’s different from what our culture deems worthwhile. You don’t find many ads on television, for example, that encourage you to rest, reflect, and repent. Pop culture wants to fill our lives with stuff and noise and activity and acquisition, the very things Lent encourages us to let go of. Fasting doesn’t get the spotlight. And, if we take Jesus seriously, it shouldn’t.
Lent asks us to do odd things, like give up something we enjoy, or spend more time in quiet reflection, or invest our time in something that is for others rather than ourselves, or consider our sinfulness, or wait without expectation of instant gratification. In a world of noise, Lent invites us to be quiet. In a world of activity, it offers stillness. In a world of self-promotion, it asks for repentance. In a world of self-reliance, it calls us to lean back into the strong arms of God.
Like I said, Lent is odd. I don’t mean this in a bad way. Sometimes odd is good. But odd is rarely easy or pleasant. Odd takes intentionality and effort. Just like Lent.