Ash Wednesday marks the formal beginning of Lent. My question therefore is: how do we celebrate Lent? Every church knows how to celebrate Christmas and Easter, and some even know how to celebrate Pentecost. But how do we celebrate this particular season of the year? The answer is that we do not, for Lent is not a festival, but a period of forty days running up to Easter.
Our English word ‘Lent’ means ‘Spring’. But Lent in not primarily a Spring festival. , but rather a season of preparation for celebration the death and resurrection of Jesus. The observance of Lent was first undertaken by candidates for baptism on Easter day, with their instruction being spread out over the six weeks.-
For some churches Lent is associated with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism. For them has become a time for self-examination and for deepening one’s devotional life. That, of course, is a good thing. But the call to Christian discipleship is to look away from oneself. I find it significant that when Jesus called his first disciples, he did not say “follow me and save your soul”, but rather “follow me and save the souls of others”. Yet some churches, who do not normally study the Bible, organise small groups to do precisely that.
However, I would advise churches who are keen on Lent, to give up Bible study in that period and instead put more time and effort into sharing their faith with others. In that regard I find it significant that when Jesus called Simon and Andrew, and James and John, to follow him, he did not invite them to become members of a Lent Bible study group, but rather to go out and win others for him. “Follow me”, he said, “and I will make you fish for people”. Unfortunately, to my mind too many churches at Lent engage in spiritual navel-gazing.
If self-examination is indeed called for at Lent, then perhaps our churches need to examine the way in which we go about our fishing. For the kind of fishing which Jesus encourages is adventurous fishing. Jesus calls us to ‘push the boat out’ (see Luke 5.4). You will remember that when his disciples did push the boat out, they were overwhelmed by their catch. Unfortunately, too much of the fishing we engage in as churches involves us standing at the edge tickling minnows, and then we wonder why are not successful.
In that respect my mind goes to an incident when my children were young. We were on holiday in North Wales. As I was walking along the beach, I saw a group of men who had just landed an enormous catch – they had done so because they had been out to sea in a boat. My children that afternoon had also been out fishing – we had in fact bought some cheap fishing nets for them, but they had caught nothing, for they had stayed on the seashore. Christian discipleship is about adventurous fishing. There’s a thought for Lent! Let’s experiment in ‘pushing the boat out’. Let me encourage you and your church to engage in some adventurous fishing.
Precisely what that adventurous fishing might involve is up to you. It could involve some special ‘seeker’ services accessible to people with little or no faith. Or it could involve a radical restricting of Sunday, putting on services at times which are convenient to people. Along with the main traditional service at eleven o’clock, there could be an early service for parents and young children. Or if early Sunday morning is not convenient for your families, then maybe a service at four o’clock in the afternoon might be more convenient. As for young people, many tend either to want to sleep in on a Sunday or they have jobs to do. So maybe ‘pushing the boat out’ might involve putting on a service at eight o’clock in the evening. On the other hand the time of day may not be the issue, but rather the type of music: some want traditional hymns, others want lots of songs, while yet others would like to express their worship of God through forms of jazz.
Whatever you and your church decide to do, let me encourage you to look outward in Lent.