A Lenten Litany: 40 Reasons for the Penitential Season

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” ~Matthew 5:6

Lent teaches us the pattern of cruciform living. It is a 40 day intensive course in the Theology of the Cross.

Lent is about following Jesus. And Jesus was on his way to a cross.

Lent is the cord that binds God with Us and God for Us together.

Lent trains the Christian to distinguish between feasting and wantonness.

Lent is a test of allegiances in which we discover who and what ultimately has the power over our lives.

Lent is a time to “purge the old leaven” from our hearts. As such, lent is the Christian season of unleavened bread.

Lent is a maturation of the grace of Christian baptism; a practical exercise in dying to sin and rising to walk in newness of life.

Lent is a time of conscious mortification of the flesh that we may live through the Spirit.

Lent is an exorcism. Some forms of demonic oppression are not defeated save through prayer and fasting.

Lent is spiritual warfare. It is an assault on besetting sins and an attack on the weights that hinder our growth in grace.

Lent is eminently trinitarian in its focus; testifying to the reality that the impassible God went to great pains to suffer with and for his people. Such unimaginable condescension took place in the Ever-Spoken Word; God’s Second Self in the person of Jesus Christ, and this without breaking the bond of the Spirit which under-girded such an undertaking.

Lent portrays a God who is not aloof from the history of his people. The Eternal God took time into his bosom, learned to count his own mortal days on ten fingers and toes, and wrote his own name at the top of the human story.

Lent compels a battered world to behold her Bloody God upon the curse-shattering cross. It says to her that the power of the curse is broken upon the back of the crucified Christ. Look and Live!

Lent gives us the jagged edge upon which the Eucharistic covenant was cut. That broken body, given for you, is the consummate reminder that God is pleased to mend the world through broken things.

Lent is anthropological. It takes seriously what God says about the nature of humanity.

Lent is grounded in theology proper. God is holy and we are called to emulate that sacred Otherness. Further, lent trains us not to despise the chastening of the Lord whereby we are made “partakers of his divine nature.”

Lent is christological. It reminds us that God in Christ took on flesh and learned obedience through suffering. Lent opens our understanding to the burden of the cross and the blessing of a High Priest cognizant of our daily infirmities.

Lent is pneumatological. It teaches dependence upon the Spirit of Life which frees us from the body of death.

Lent is soteriological. It reminds us of our innate sinfulness and the redemption that was won for us through a bloody cross and a defeated tomb.

Lent is ecclesiological. It reminds us of our shared place within the communion of saints. We fast together. We pray together. We repent together. We wait together. We hope together.

Lent is eschatological. It reminds us that fasting is a temporary endeavor because sin and its consequent sufferings are only temporary. Moreover, all fasts are canceled when the Bridegroom arrives. Ultimately, lent draws our attention to the wedding feast at the marriage of the Lamb.

Lent is missional. It is a public witness of the New Israel—the shining City on a Hill—to the nations still stumbling in darkness. It is a time when once-hungry beggars are reminded to tell other beggars where they can buy bread enough and to spare without money and without price.

Lent is counter-cultural. It declares an emphatic “No” to the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

Lent informs our praying. It brings us to Gethsemane and teaches us to say, “Not my will, but Thine, O Lord.”

Lent teaches us the logic of the Lord’s Prayer. Our search for daily bread is linked on the one hand with the Father’s will of the everlasting kingdom, and on the other hand to the cosmic battle against carnal temptation and the subtle lure of the evil one.

Lent allows us to pray mea culpa and confess felix culpa without any internal contradiction.

Lent is a supplication based on the inspired prayer, “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” In this way, fasting during lent is a practical expression of patience.

Lent takes physicality and carnal appetites seriously. In doing so, it is preeminently anti-gnostic. Lent follows from a robust theology of creation.

If you observe lent in order to free your body from your soul, then you are not a Christian but a gnostic heretic. Lent, rightly understood, is about freeing the body and the soul to better serve the kingdom of God.

Lent assumes both the goodness of created things and the propriety of pleasure. Abstinence, then, is simply an appreciation of the divinely established hierarchy of the gracious gifts of God.

Lent reminds us that that we do not live by bread alone, but by every Word which proceeds from the mouth of God.

Lent is about cultivating desires more than it is about curbing desires.

Lent ultimately aims for resurrection and the beatific vision. Thus, it may be helpful to think of it in aesthetic terms as well as ascetic terms.

Lent is a defense against morbid introspectionism. By giving self-examination its proper place, it frees the Christian from the tendency to engage in navel gazing all year long.

The Christian Church deemed it wise to observe lent once a year so as not to make the mistake of observing it once a week. Without a penitential season, our tendency is to spread the somber purple across the whole calendar—with Sundays bruised the most in the process. We must remember that Sundays are always feast days since it is on this day that the Lord calls us into his presence and unto his table. Sabbaths are necessarily excluded from lenten fasts because every Sunday is Easter.

Lent compels us to number our days and to remember that we are dust so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Lent calls us to feast on promises yet unfulfilled. To embrace hope. To train the eye of faith to see the invisible.

Lent is a season of joy because it is never separated from the larger story of resurrection and consummate victory.

Lent teaches a sentimental age how to lament in hope. And in so doing, it testifies against our rootless sentimentality and our deep seated pessimism.

Lent is as much a wedding procession as it is a funeral march. In the Christian Faith, a bride was formed from the riven side of the Last Adam. And these are the days in which she washes her robes, hating the garments spotted by the flesh.

We “wash our faces” when we fast during lent for the same reason that the Children of Israel wore shoes while eating the Passover—because we are going somewhere.

Lent is a decluttering of life. It is primarily concerned with foregoing a bit of pleasure in order to make more room for joy.

Lent is about gratitude. As we bow our heads in repentance, Heaven invokes the Sursum Corda, and our hearts rise upwards on the wings of thanksgiving. And there in those hallowed courts, where we should have no right to be at all, God gives himself to us despite our manifold sins. Given that reality, gratitude is both reasonable and natural. In this way even Lent becomes a eucharist.

Lent is rooted in the unqualified goodness of God. The wise woman from Tekoa said that we are as “water spilled on the ground that cannot be gathered up again.” And yet, God “devised means that those banished be not expelled from him.” Lent is about the incredible kindness of covenant mercy.

Lent is about giving. Isaiah 58 reminds us that the fast which the Lord chose for his people calls us to give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and shelter to the homeless. Lent is not simply a time to give some things up, it is also an opportunity to give good gifts away.


J. Brandon Meeks

J. Brandon Meeks is a writer, studio musician, and Christian scholar. He received his PhD. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is also a fan of Alabama football, the blues, and cheese. He blogs regularly at www.highchurchpuritan.com.


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