Good Friday and Easter used to be nothing more than a guaranteed long weekend that I looked forward to every year—for three straight days, no school or no work. When I was baptised in 1988, however, I began to understand the significance of Good Friday, Easter and Christmas; together they brought to life the first Bible verse that I managed to memorise as a young man from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But Lent? I didn’t know much about it back then. I later found out, that Lenten rituals had nothing to do with lanterns, as I had thought. Anyway, being a busy young executive climbing the corporate ladder then, I struggled to observe anything outside work that lasted as long as 40 days.
Tracing Jesus’ final week on earth
When I started attending Bible Study courses from 2011, I began to attend Holy Week Services. Holy Week marks Jesus’ final week on earth as he walks in obedience to the Cross to fulfil his Father’s salvation plan for us. It starts from Palm Sunday where we recall our Lord Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, to Maundy Thursday where he washed his disciples’ feet, and finally his crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
I will always remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross which is the basis for the forgiveness of my sins; a massive debt that I will never be able to repay. I will also remember his humility in making his grand entry into Jerusalem on a donkey as well as his posture of servanthood in washing the feet of his disciples. These are traits that I try to emulate in my final years before retirement, and now that I am serving in church.
The rituals of Lent drew me closer to God
As I grew older in the faith, I was finally drawn to observe Lent, which stretches over 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday; 46 days if you include the six Sundays during this period. This year, Lent starts on 2 March (Ash Wednesday) and ends on 16 April (Holy Saturday). Easter Sunday falls on 17 April.
Lent, as I found out, is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. In the early church, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by new converts and then became a time of penance for all Christians. Come to think of it, I was baptised during the Season of Lent in 1988.
I remember attending my first Ash Wednesday Service some five years ago, during which the pastor marked a cross of ash on my forehead. I learnt that this signifies my mortality and penance for my sins. I didn’t erase the ash cross until I reached home.
My wife and I also followed the church practice of fasting once a week, not during Lent but in the 40 days of Prayer and Fasting leading up to National Day. We fasted after dinner every Tuesday to after the Prayer Service on Wednesday evening. It helped that I am not quite the foodie. Even then, I remember on one occasion while I was fasting, I received a text from a friend showing a photo of a sumptuous dinner he was having with his family. This friend didn’t know I was fasting. I suddenly felt a wave of hunger pangs. Thankfully, I was fasting together with my fellow companions in Christ. And someone texted this verse to me: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” At that moment, I overcame the temptation.
I’ve found that fasting together with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is helpful. We encourage one another. I also find it easier to fast if I combine it with prayer and meditation of scripture. Together, these disciplines help me to focus on God.
3Rs: Remember, repent, respond
Over time, I realise that while the ritual during Lent is helpful, it is my personal response to God’s salvation plan and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that matters. I am to remember, repent and respond.
I will remember the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as well as his obedience to his Father. In a spirit of penitence, I will seek to repent of my sins. And I will respond to Christ’s sacrifice by choosing to give up something or give of myself in serving the Least, the Last and the Lost.
This Lent, I will ask myself three questions:
1. What is the one thing I will remember Jesus for?
His Obedience: I will remember Jesus for his obedience to his father. I will reflect on my own obedience to God; how I may be more of a doer of God’s Word than a hearer. It helps that my church’s Bible Reading Drive has always focussed on one Gospel during Lent. This Lent, we will be reading the Book of Matthew, and I will be joining a band of brothers in weekly devotions. It will be a good opportunity for me to gauge how far I have come as a disciple of Jesus. Or shall I say, “How far more I need to go to be a good disciple of Jesus?”
2. What is the one thing that I will seek to repent from?
My Impatience: Patience is listed among the character traits in the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV). I had unwittingly inculcated a bad habit of impatience while working as a reporter and then editor of a daily newspaper before my retirement. It was a fast-paced work environment where deadlines were often expressed in terms of hours, and not days or weeks. But just as God has been gracious and very patient with me, I will now need to slow down, be more patient, and also more accepting of others.
3. What is my one response to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross?
Love God and Neighbour: This year, my wife and I have decided to spend more time building spiritual relationships with my fellow companions in Christ, especially pre-believers whom God has placed in our paths.
To God be the glory!
Alvin Tay is the Managing Editor of the Methodist Message and worships at Wesley Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Alvin Tay