The Challenge and Opportunity of Lent
In the Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, the priest invites the congregation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” There was a time when the Church took this invitation very seriously. We saw in Lent an opportunity to reclaim our faith in practical ways. This inclination has become less common. In 2014, the Barna group discovered that while 72 percent of U.S. adults were “aware” of Lent, only 17 percent planned to observe it in any meaningful way. There are probably many reasons for this loss of interest in Lent. For one, we are so obsessed with the idea of self-improvement that the central conceit of the season, that we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, seems irrelevant to us. Thus, for many of us, Lenten disciplines have become “New Year’s Resolutions 2.0,” a chance to recommit to whatever self-improvement scheme we abandoned during the doldrums of January instead of an opportunity to recommit to our faith. Perhaps more significantly, we live in a culture that regards any spiritual practice skeptically. By our society’s standards, the idea of devoting ourselves to prayer or the study of Scripture feels like a waste of time. All of this begs the question: why should we heed the invitation to a “holy Lent”? What does it mean to read and meditate on God’s holy word and engage in prayer, fasting, and self-denial in our increasingly secular society?
The answer to these questions can be found in the gospel according to Mark. Once considered the “black sheep” among the evangelists, Mark has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few decades. Historically, scholars dismissed the shortest gospel because it appears to be a mere summary of its counterparts. Recently, however, Christians have begun to rediscover the distinctive and eloquent witness of Mark’s gospel. No longer considered a “black sheep,” Mark has taken his rightful place as one of the true geniuses of the Christian canon. The gospel according to Mark provides a unique and riveting account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More importantly, it speaks powerfully to today’s Church. More than any other evangelist, Mark’s gospel is suffused with a profound awareness that the good news of Jesus Christ represents a significant disruption of the status quo. Moreover, the gospel according to Mark challenges us to live lives shaped by what God has accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Like Mark’s gospel, Lent disrupts and challenges us. It forces us out of our self-centered, impatient routines and invites us to look at the world in a new way. In this spirit, the Merion Deanery will be using the season of Lent to explore the ways the gospel according to Mark speaks to us today. Every day, one of the clergy of the Deanery will offer a reflection on an excerpt from the Passion Narrative in Mark’s gospel. These meditations on the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death will help us appreciate the gospel’s true power. Indeed, these reflections will reveal that heeding the invitation to a “holy Lent” can transform our experience of the world. We hope you will make this journey through Mark’s Passion part of your Lenten discipline and consider how this holy season and Mark’s unique perspective can shape our lives of faith.