Lent is a Time of Grace

by Susanna Mak
First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-15

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:12-15

What is Lent? It certainly gets a lot of “bad rap” from secular perspectives based solely on half-hearted misunderstanding or outright misinformation. Most people, Christians or not, would have a sense that Lent is a season of “giving-up” and making sacrifices; however, most of these sacrifices remain on a superficial level: giving up chocolates, wine, social media, and so on. In other words, Lent translates into “not having a good time” for many. So, what are we missing? Let us take a pause to consider these questions: Sacrifices are great, but can they be transformative? Do we allow these sacrifices to move our hearts and minds? Or are they simply inconveniences for forty days every year? For whom are we making these sacrifices? This week’s readings reveal the beautiful truth about Lent; that it is a time of grace, a time of introspection, an opportunity for a restart or a do-over, a second chance. At the heart of Lent is an invitation to dig deeper: to reflect, review, and renew; it is, indeed, a springboard for radical transformation of our heart and mind!

Lent is a time of grace. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Lent gently opens up a space amidst our noisy and busy everyday life for introspection. For what am I grateful? Where do I find solace from pain and regrets? To whom can I go for compassion and support? Am I courageous and humble enough to recognize God’s love in everything that I am and do? No matter where I am right now, I am confident that I can do better, not with my own strength or even will-power, but with Christ who has “suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead [us] to God” (1Pt 3:18). As we receive ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, we are, once again, reminded to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Let us bow down before God our Saviour and pray, “Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD” (Ps 25:6).

Lent is a time of grace. It firmly pulls us back from our daily preoccupations and redirects our gaze inward: When we wronged someone; when hurtful words flew out like daggers; when we walked away from the poor, the lonely, or the sick; when we were indifferent or too afraid to bear witness for Christ; when we refused to see Christ in our opponents; when we shut out God’s love because we felt small and ashamed. Indeed, we are bound so tightly by our own insecurities that we often fail to see the rainbow in the skies. However, hidden in the shadows of our own fear and pride is the greatest strength that can only come from God. As we read the story of Noah and the great flood, imagine the despair that Noah and his sons must have felt during the flood when all they can see is endless water. Yet God “remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Gen 8:1). Not only has the water washed everything clean, but it has also cleansed the heart of every being on earth. Creation has been given a second chance! The image of water, of course, prefigures baptism, “which saves [us] now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pt 3:21). After the great flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants, “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth” (Gen 9:11). Though Noah and his sons (and all of creation) are put in a dire situation, God remembers and holds them in His love and compassion. When we fall and sin; when we feel small and ashamed; we must refuse to be drowned by these endless shadows of despair. May we always remember to look up and find God’s “bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between [God] and the earth” (Gen 9:13).

Indeed, Lent is a time of grace! Just as the water cleanses and renews the face of the earth, we are invited to take a pause and create a space to reflect with gratitude, acknowledge our weaknesses, and remember the goodness of the Lord. During Lent, not only do we strive to make sacrifices for our own good and for the good of each other; but we must also strive to let go of the things that bind us: things that stand between us and God. Therefore, what we are giving up, especially during Lent, is ourselves: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” and “to do good and to share what you have” (Ps 51:17, Heb 13:16). During this Lenten season, may we begin our journey with a heart filled with gratitude, take courage when we stumble, and humbly offer up our limitations and weaknesses so that God’s glory may shine through us.