Lent, from the Saxon word, lencten, meaning “spring” is a time the early church viewed as a “spiritual spring”. It can be a time of embracing the invitation of renewal and restoration of the soul.
But how, isn’t Lent, a time of giving something up?
Yes, but what is the spirit of those 40 days prior to the Easter season? In the rhythm of the church calendar, this season of prayer and fasting before the great feast is focusing on commemorating the resurrection. As early as the 203, St. Irenaeus wrote about celebrating Easter in the early church and the differences concerning the 40 days of fasting.
May we see this as a season not of lack, but of embracing deepening intimacy found in unbroken authentic communion with the Father, a “renewal fast” made possible by the Incarnation, Resurrection, and indwelling Holy Spirit, in advance of the time of leading up to Easter celebration.
Can the joy of the Resurrection Celebration really be thoroughly experienced without the “giving things up” in the fast? What is the spirit of Lent?
Let us look back to tradition in the early church. Eastern Orthodox liturgy and theology expresses that Adam “ate apart” from God. He entered into the world of self-sufficiency and independence from God, so much so that he hid. He believed the lie that the one restricted fruit was for his own well-being had life and could then become like God instead of trusting the very words of God and embracing relationship with God.
The boundary was a certain fruit upon the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Accepting that instruction, trusting God, limited the excess of human freedom. By design, Adam was to thrive in the boundary set, dependent upon God for life – for food. Was not God’s instruction an abstinence from the one fruit, not all fruit? In a sense then, did they not break the boundary, the restriction placed for well-being, a “fast” from the one fruit that provided unbroken communion with God?
Do we not have the same tendency, to live as though there are no limits, no boundaries, having appetites that desire, either due to lack of self-control which is a fruit of dependence upon God or in rejection of his way of life and wanting self-sufficiency apart from God, to be like him? Do we not question the sovereignty of God by following our own desires rather than being led by the Spirit?
The early church viewed a reversal of Adam’s temptation and sin through Christ Jesus temptation without sin through the 40 day fast after his baptism. Led by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus refused all temptation that would place Him at center stage instead of God. He did not lean into His self-sufficiency, but instead “fasted” even the power available to him in the face and lure of temptation. It was the focusing on God’s will and power through communion, not his own strength, that were the boundary to keep him from the forbidden temptations of pride of self-sufficiency. Instead in deepest humility, he suffered and gave up his own right to fulfill the required sacrificial offering so that we could be restored in intimacy with the Father.
Did not Jesus “keep the fast” when being tempted by abstaining from self-sufficiency for the sake of unbroken communion with the Father? He had no reason to impress or to hide. His relationship was unbroken with the Father, through “fasting”.
In the same way, is it not our resistance of our own self-sufficiency that keeps us in communion with God, being then “clothed with Christ” and a “new creation” first leaning into him before acting upon our human nature? Living instead in the way he has called us to live, “in Christ”? Is it not this yielding, “a fasting” that is the abiding Jesus talks about in his last days in John 15?
Are not these limits of fasting, then life-giving and restorative, becoming boundaries of freedom to keep unbroken intimacy with The Father?
May this season of Lent be one of pressing in, in joy, abstaining in order to be a progressive sanctification of becoming more like him.
For reflection and prayer:
Have I been aware of his Presence in my life? Have I responded to the Spirit or resisted? Why?