Drapes of purple cloth observable on area crosses that once stood bare indicate it is that time of year again. These shrouds give witness that people who call themselves Christians, followers of Christ, are on their annual journey through a season called Lent.
Lent is a solemn period in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays), ending on Easter Sunday.
For many, this is not their favorite part of the church year. Some recall childhood memories of having to give up candy, or the drudgery of extra church services, often with slow, ominous music.
For others, heavy sounding words like “sacrifice,” “discipline,” and “self-denial” are used in ways that too often suggest that Lent is something to be endured rather than a time of grace and spiritual growth.
Ample evidence of such attitudes abounds, such as the commitment of some to give up something for Lent that they didn’t even like in the first place – like Brussel sprouts. Most would be OK with skipping all this dark and gloomy Lent “stuff” and just jumping ahead to the more fun and joyous Easter.
But perhaps there is a gift, a blessing of sorts, in the self-examination, personal reflection, and renewed commitments that form Lenten disciplines.
Each year the church offers us six weeks to take a long, deep and loving look at our lives. We are encouraged to stop and check to see if our values, actions and priorities are in line with God’s desires for us.
For most of us, such an examination confirms what we were already sensing, that we’ve wandered far from God’s path.
Thankfully, Lent arrives each year to provide us a second chance, a do-over, a way of returning to God with our whole heart. Those who have experienced this blessing will tell you of how they grew during Lent.
Their experiences vary for sure. Some people used ancient spiritual rituals. Other focused on out-of-the-ordinary, creative ways of reconnecting their lives with God. Some took up practices rather than stopping others.
There is still time to try it for yourself. As you journey through this annual second chance, remember that each step brings you closer to the welcoming arms of a loving God.
May it be so for you, and me, this Lent.
Pete Berntson is the pastor of Church of the Palms United Methodist Church in Okatie.