By Dan UGWU.
The scriptural calls for repentance, judgment, dangers of sin and temptation are notable during the time of lent which spans from Ash Wednesday till the eve of Easter. However, I feel is good as well to reflect on how lent can be a stimulus for Christian involvement in social struggle considering the urgent demand for everyone in Nigeria to contribute in the salvation of Nigeria from current dehumanizing challenges.
The English word “Lent” comes from the Germanic word for “springtime.” It’s such a resonant word, bringing to mind renewal and new life. But springtime also brings to mind the often-dreaded task of spring cleansing.
No wonder lent and springtime are connected! Like spring, Lent is a time of renewal and new life as well as a time to do some spring cleansing. It is a perfect opportunity to take spiritual inventory and clean out those things that clutter our lives (both personal and social) and get in the way of our relationship.
Lent, observed in the forty days before Easter, developed as a way of recalling our Lord’s own forty days and nights of fasting in the wilderness while he prayed and battled with the devil. Traditionally, lent has always be regarded as a period of renewal characterized by the three features of fasting, alms-giving and prayer.
One may be tempted to ask the question – why do Christians observe lent? The opening chapter of Baruch tells how on one occasion the Jewish exiles in Babylon “wept and fasted and prayed before the Lord, and collected such funds as each could furnish” (1:5-6). That one sentence summarizes the common penitential disciplines of God’s people since the ancient times.
In the life of ancient Israel, God himself set the precedent for designating special days for penance. Through Moses, he commanded the people to observe an annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) “on the tenth day of the seventh month” (Lev. 16:29).
On this day, the people were to mortify themselves (eat no food) and do no work, so they could devote the day to repentance and prayer, asking God to cleanse them of their sins (Lev. 16:29-34). In later times, the Jewish people set aside additional days and seasons of penitential fasting (Zech 8:19). This practice of penitential days and seasons was continued by the early Christians (Acts 13:2-3) and became an established tradition in the Church.
It is fitting that the season of Lent begins with a symbol repentance: the placing of ashes on our foreheads, a practice which buttresses the attitude of repentance as seen in the Old Testament when after the prophecy of Jonah in Nineveh “the King rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down on ashes” (Jonah 3:6). During the season of lent, Christians continue to express sorrow for their sins and a desire to draw closer to God through prayer, fasting and alms-giving.
From the above overview, the value of prayer is immediately obvious; with Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, the new Christian meaning of human suffering is underlined; the victory that comes with faithful suffering is expressive. Because of this traditional way of understanding lent, some Christians have correctly interpreted the season as a time for penance, fasting and alms-giving.
Although correct, but I intend to establish a new meaning and message of the season.
As it is clear to all of us, the spiritual exercises of the Lenten season are meant to prepare us spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over death. Death itself is a state of lifelessness and hopelessness; it is the end of all possibilities; the end of existence.
Contrary to the hopelessness of death, the feast of Easter radiates hope and courage that “with God all things are possible”. Easter brings to the fore, the infinitude of possibilities against the hopelessness of death. Just as death means hopelessness and lifelessness, any state of life that shares these characters fall within the categories of death.
This could stretch from the personal to the socio-economic and political. Examples will include: consciences that no longer distinguish between good and evil, religious leaders who have abandoned their divine assignment to sing praises for criminal politicians and gold-diggers for lust of filthy lucre and those who materially compete with business tycoons and money magnets in a show of wealth; politicians who have looted their constituents dry to the tune of billions.
Politics and public governance in countries like Nigeria have been reduced to huge jokes and are steadily dying that the necessity of CHANGE has become imperative. No patriotic Nigerian will be comfortable with the situation of Nigeria today.
Political gangsterism has become a norm while election rigging appears canonized. The culture of political unruliness has created unimaginable miseries and unparalleled oceans of poverty dotted with islands of scandalous wealth.
The violence that accompanied the murder of Jesus of Nazareth was made even more vicious because of the innocence of the victim. Such mindless injustice is being perpetrated among us today, not even children and the unborn are exempted. Our world has simply failed to adequately respond to the demands of equity and justice for all especially the vulnerable.
The issue of justice in Nigeria is heavily treated with much subjectivism, such that the notion of justice and its implementation are abandoned to the whims and caprices of each individual to such an extent that Nigerians are more conversant with “jungle justice” than the idea of justice concerned with the proper ordering of people and things within the Nigerian polity and beyond.
The polity is notoriously known for its complete breakdown of law and order, indiscipline and flagrant violations of human rights. The situation is complicated with the level of acrimony and hate propagated as doctrine.
The onslaught of these men is fast turning the country into another version of the Rwandan genocide and with its morbid infamy. Basic social amenities like portable water, electricity, motor-able roads as well as health care and education appear as forgotten issues. The cost of governance in Nigeria unlike in many other democracies is outrageously high, little wonder well-meaning Nigerians have been calling for a review of the cost of bureaucracy.
These problems keep multiplying in spread and depth. There is no doubt that we have arrived at this state of death in our national history and personal orientations which have led to loss of the sense of the sacred, obliterating the boundaries between good and evil. To say the least, there is despair and frustration.
Lent is a period, when Christians prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Christ from death. The season is meant to create in us the stimulus to confront our many states of death and seriously prepare us to rise with Christ to new life, new courage, new vision and new orientations.
The season is meant to spur us into positive involvement in social struggles so as to adopt a creative critical engagement with the society in the bid to transform it for better human living conditions. The season could acquire social and political relevance that transcends the dark rooms of mere religious piety.
In this sense, repentance as a special requirement of the Lenten season will not only consist in the prayer of forgiveness but rather involves the renunciation of lifestyles that stimulate and enhance the state of death in our human society.
The awareness of sin during this period of lent involves also socially insensitive and destructive tendencies. There is the consciousness that there is much more to Lent than wearing the ashen sign for one day; much more, even, that our acts of fasting, prayer and alms-giving.
Conceived in this way, the Stations of the Cross, which is a norm during lent through which the Christian journeys with Jesus through his agony and death, can incorporate the present sufferings and cries of our people.
Through this process, the devotion could become transformed from religious piety to a powerful spiritual vehicle of touching minds, hearts and challenging them to decreasing the many crowns of thorns worn by our people.
In this way, the sufferings of Jesus would not be in the past but will be replayed every day in each kidnapped person; and in every victim of bloodbath occasioned by acts of insurrection in Nigeria. This is how best to appreciate the significance of lent.
Let the preparation begin today! We pray the Lord to support us, as with this Lenten fast, we begin our Christian warfare, so that in doing battle against the spirit of evil, both personal and social, we may be armed with the weapon of self-denial.
- Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Dan Ugwu and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”