You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:14-16, ESV)
As I taught the Season of Lent class today for the first time, we discussed some of the history of Lent, some of the symbolism (especially of the 40 days), and how it seems to have been buried under a mountain of legalism and ritual. As a result, far too many will enter into the season and abstain from something because they feel they have to do it. It's an annual checklist item and they will do their best to fulfill their commitment between now and Easter - even if it kills them. But they will have missed the point entirely. Lent isn't, at the heart, a season of "giving up", but rather it is a season to prepare and renew the heart for what lies ahead. And what lies ahead, what we commemorate every Spring, is the call of Jesus to enter into relationship with Him in a richer, deeper way.
While it wasn't some mandate to observe Lent or any other practice, the words of the Master to His disciples in the Upper Room on that final night were words to live by. And among the great teachings was the "turning of the tables" where the Messiah called them his friends and explained that all He had and all He had done was theirs as well. They had been called God's children before, but this was something new - a new angle, if you will. It was an invitation to live as He lived, serve as He served, and ultimately to die as He died. In becoming friends instead of pupils, God Himself was telling them the entire game was about to change drastically. And at the heart of the change was a new relationship, a deeper, richer friendship with God than they could possibly imagine.
In preparing for my Lenten side trip, I would do well to remember it isn't about the practice, but about the Person. He does not now, nor has he ever wanted my ritualistic sacrifice. He wants my heart. He wants your heart. Celebrating Lent is just one way of seeking that deeper friendship with Him. And, I believe, it will be well worth the journey.