The Lenten journey is about to begin. The season parallels the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness which culminated in the temptations he endured from Satan (which will be our sermon series during Lent). Lent is typically more austere. People periodically fast from food altogether or abstain from some foods, social media, or entertainment. These practices help us tune into the wilderness of Lent. We journey with Jesus through a bleak landscape toward the cross as we foster our hope in life bursting forth from the grave on Easter.
You may recall that the first pandemic-related restrictions in British Columbia were initially put into effect during the Lenten journey. Lent gives way to the celebratory joy of Easter. But last year Easter was virtual which felt somewhat, well … anticlimactic. Lent “ended” but the pandemic has continued with its limitations and restrictions. So, as I look back over the past year, I can’t tell:
Did Lent even end?
Because it feels like we are still on the journey. We remain in the austere wilderness. We continue to wait for resurrection to break forth in the barren reality around us. We yearn for the restoration of friendships and physical touch, the freedom to travel to loved ones, or even to see the lower half of strangers faces. And if we have been in a prolonged Lent-of-sorts, how can we even talk about starting Lent afresh as the pandemic drags on? A Lent within a Lent? The inception of Lents? Lord, have mercy.
I can understand if you have some reluctance about committing to the typical practices of Lent. It is not like a plethora of activities are available right now. Is it really necessary to fast from food or abstain from some of the few remaining pleasures? The pandemic is hard enough, let’s not exacerbate the challenges with even more restrictions.
First of all, let’s remember: the Christian calendar is optional. It is not gospel. It is not law. It is a guide—a helpful guide, but not a necessary guide. Let me be more explicit: You have a pass on Lent this year—and any year if needed. If you choose not to fast or abstain during this season, that is no mark against you. Grace has torn up all the scorecards anyway. So, given the trials of the pandemic, one viable option for you is to say, “Hard pass” to the journey of Lent.
But before you decide to cordially part ways with Lent: What would it look like if we adopted a gracious pace for Lent during a pandemic? This year we created a Lenten calendar with a holistic set of practices to do just that. It has a weekly pattern as follows:
- Feast. During Lent, Sundays are feast days. In most traditions this means you fast from the fasting or abstain from the abstaining. Instead, you celebrate. Each Sunday we offer one easy suggestion to help you feast.
- Learn. Each Monday we ask you to learn about one of our featured Outward partnerships. These organizations do wonderful things in our city and the world. We can honour their work by taking a little time to learn more about it.
- Dwell. Each Tuesday we provide one short verse related to Lent for you to dwell and meditate upon. You may want to memorize it and repeat it to yourself during the week.
- Abstain/Fast. Each Wednesday you can rotate between fasting from food or abstaining from something—the traditional practices of Lent—to focus on intercessory prayer for our featured Outward partnerships.
- Connect. Each Thursdays we encourage you to reach out to friends and relatives to receive and offer support. We suggest some intentional ways to cultivate meaningful connection.
- Love Others. Each Friday, we hope you will take a few minutes to write a postcard and send it to one of our featured Outward partners.
- Rest. Finally on Saturdays, we rest and abide in grace.
This is our pattern for Lent. And behind it are two goals:
First, we want you take care of yourself. As we’ve said before: you do not need to make the most of a pandemic. It’s important to nurture your well-being. But there is no such thing as self-care apart from soul-care. The activities related to the feast, dwell, connect, and rest patterns will help you take care of yourself during this trying time as you open yourself up to Christ, creation, and others.
Second, we want to encourage the fasting that pleases God. As we read in Isaiah, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Is 58:6-7). As we learn about our featured Outward partnerships, abstain or fast once a week to pray for them, and love others through the simple yet significant act of writing a postcard—we are doing what we can, within the limits of the pandemic, to step toward what matters to God. We hope these little initiatives will be seeds that bloom in season, perhaps stirring you to greater engagement with one of these partnerships.
Most of all, we hope you will use this season to establish or renew daily solitude with Jesus. Because we can do without Lent but we cannot do without Jesus. Take time to sit with him, talk to him, and learn about him. You will not be disappointed. As Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
Resources for Lent
This year we recommend Backyard Pilgrim by Matt Canlis as a companion book for the journey. If you’d like to learn more about Lent, consider reading our past articles Doing Lent Well, Giving Up Lent For Lent, or The Season of Bright Sadness.
You’re welcome to use our Lenten calendar. If you don’t call St. Pete’s home, you can replace our Outward partners with organizations your church supports (or that you are passionate about). You’ll just need to buy your own postcards.