I didn't grow up with Lent as part of my Christian practice. In fact, the church where I was raised did very little even for Holy Week. Lent was very new to me when I started attending a Lutheran College.
At first, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Kids in the campus ministry program asked one another "what are you giving up?" and I felt confused and uncomfortable. But I decided to give up caffeine to try to fit in.
I was in college. I lasted about two days.
Lent almost seemed like a second-chance New Year's resolution, and I had about as much luck with that one as I did with the resolution I'd made on January 1! Very quickly, Lent became one more source of young-adult failure and frustration.
Over time, Lent has come to mean something much different to me. It is not about what I can achieve in doing or giving up -- efforts that focus primarily on myself. It is a time of centering, of turning away from myself to Christ for healing of that which is broken and hurting in my life and in the world. It is a time for "getting real" before God about the stuff the blocks and binds me from a full relationship my family, my community, creation and Creator. Lent is a time to remember that we all stand in need of healing, forgiveness, love and transformation, and knowing we have a Lord who promises to wipe our tears, bind our wounds, comfort our afflictions and afflict our comfort!
I would like to invite you join us on Wednesday evenings this Lent as we focus on the need for healing: from sin, in our bodies and minds, in our relationships, in our community and nation, in the nations of the world, in creation. Each week, we will recenter ourselves on Jesus Christ the healer, whose wounds have set the world free from fear and death.
St. Augustine and many others described the church as a hospital for sinners. Indeed -- we are not a gathering of people who have it together. We are gathering of the broken and wounded, people in need of healing, living in a world deeply in need of healing.
As we join together Wednesday evenings for crafts, conversation, simple soup and bread, we will come together to that hospital, bringing ourselves and our world before the great healer, Jesus Christ. At the "hospital" worship service, we will share healing prayer -- each week with a different focus. For instance: on the night that we pray for healing in our bodies and minds, we will offer individual healing prayer and anointing with oil as part of the service for those who desire it. On the night when we pray for healing of the nations, we will have artwork created by the children to help direct our prayers around the world.
In addition, our Lenten giving focus -- Healing from Hunger -- is another opportunity to recenter. Are there regular purchases that we make that unnecessary and/or unhealthy? Perhaps we might consider cutting an expense out (soda? expensive coffee drinks? meals out?) and then donating what we would have spent on that expense toward our local food bank and ELCA's World Hunger Program. Giving to those who hunger brings a very different focus to a Lenten fast from something like coffee, alcohol, tobacco or unnecessary shopping. This would be an excellent activity to do with children: what expense could you as a family give up during Lent in order to be able to be more generous to those who are hungry? Perhaps cooking together as a family rather than going out or ordering a pizza, and then giving what you save to Helping Hands or World Hunger as a practical way of praying for God's healing of hunger. As Pope Francis recently said, "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That's how prayer works."