We often approach Lent as a season of making up for failed New Years resolutions. We abstain from our favorite desserts, or see how long we can survive without (insert personal vice here). Perhaps we even develop a new habit. While all these things are good for maturing in self-control, we must remember that Lent is not just about physical restraint or self-abnegation for spiritual growth. Lent is largely about our relationship with God, about God dwelling with us.
Consider the book of Leviticus. Having read the book recently for my Old Testament course, the first image that comes to my mind is blood. Blood everywhere. On dead animals, on altars, on people, on ears, fingers, heads, and toes. Moses threw blood not only on altars, he slung it on the multitude of Israelites. Sounds like something you might see at an Ozzy Osbourne concert. The tabernacle was a place of sacrifice, and yes, it was bloody. But we must consider the reason behind all of the sacrifices and the blood they entailed. Yahweh’s reason for instituting the Levitical system was driven by his desire for relationship with his people. Without atonement for sin, the people of Israel had no way of approaching the holy and pure God who led them. So, the reason for sacrifice is to make a way for God’s people to enjoy his blessing and presence. God’s commandments were not given simply to burden the people, but to give them a way to be close to him and continually enjoy him. This code of holiness would help close the gap between a holy God and a sinful people, and was meant to be applied throughout all of life. “The legislative holiness of Leviticus could prove effective only as Israel practically implemented the ideal of ‘the holy’ into the everyday human experience” (132). Israel had to uphold her end of the covenant to enjoy the fellowship of her Lord.
Like Israel, we need to practice that which draws us close to God. Our sin, too, separates us from his presence. Thanks be to God, our sacrifice was offered once and for all in the Lamb who was slain at Calvary. However, our lives continually slip away from him and become clouded with other things — the cares of this life, our desires and attachments to material things. As we become attached to these things, we become detached from fellowship with God.
What a grand opportunity Lent provides us to once again intentionally draw close to God, the one who made the most costly sacrifice of his son so we could peacefully dwell in his presence. We can practice not only the foregoing of certain pleasures, but intentionally practice those things that open up space in our lives for more of God’s loving presence. Whether you choose Lectio Divina, contemplative prayer, volunteer work, daily self-examination, or another practice, think of Lent as a kind of “Levitical” opportunity to practice the holiness God calls you to and “offer yourself a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12.1). When you make space for him, he will fill it.
1. Quote taken from Survey of the Old Testament, by Andrew Hill and John Walton, Zondervan, 2009.