Many Christians, have imagined Lent to be about placating or impressing God – winning a better seat in heaven, by fleeing the corruption of sinful human life. But in Christ we see a love that needs no placating. His is a love that persists even as we do our very worst to him.
God’s answer to human sin is not to demand retribution. Instead, in Christ he takes upon himself all the violence, all the retribution, that the world can offer. He does not stand over us; rather he shows the depth of his love by standing among us. In Christ, we find God’s presence most of all with those our world isolates and scapegoats. The purpose of Lent is to clear away the clutter – our pride, our sin, our desire to blame and scapegoat others – so that we might recognize God’s presence, and allow his grace to refine and to renew us.
The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday is Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18 (or 6.1-6, 16-21)
Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is Luke 4.1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
Pride seems like the hardest sin to root out. The moment you think you’ve conquered your pride…and you begin to feel smug about it…that’s when you’re proudest of all.
The sin of pride comes when we rely on our own power, and see the world only in terms of our importance and achievements. Pride stops us seeing other human beings as equals. They become our rivals.
The temptation to pride often comes when our relationship with God seems to be going well. We congratulate ourselves on our success, rather than giving glory to God.
It’s at the point when Jesus is ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ that we read of the devil tempting him . The temptation is for Jesus to use his power to impress and dominate the crowds.
Jesus recognises and rejects this temptation because he is rooted in prayer. Because he is focused on the things that really do matter, he can identify and reject the temptations of pride and self-seeking.
As the forty days in the wilderness helped Jesus to clarify and refine his calling, so in these forty days of Lent we can be refined: so that our pride does not crowd out the love and grace with which God longs to fill us.
Resources for prayer this Lent
The Contextual Theology Centre is organising a Quiet Afternoon on Silence: The Contemplative Way to help Christians deepen their prayer lives this Lent. Details are on our events page.
The Centre and the Church Urban Fund have also developed a Lent course called Seeing Change which includes practical action for social justice – and roots it in prayer and Bible study. You can download it here.