The Meaning of Lent and Exile

It’s interesting how many religious holidays we celebrate that we don’t understand. Lent is one of them. Most Christians could probably tell you that Lent has something to do with the weeks leading up to Easter. They might add that it’s a time of fasting and reflection. But beyond that, Lent is a bit of a mystery. They don’t know the full meaning of Lent.

The Meaning of Lent

The meaning of Lent is simply “spring”.  It got the name “spring” in the Middle Ages because spring time was when the church remembered the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by the devil. The 40 days led up to Easter. Over time, the 40 days and springtime became synonymous.

The Meaning of Lent and Fasting

Why do people fast (not eat meat or chocolate or whatever they choose to skip)?  They are following Jesus’ lead. But do you know why Jesus fasted?  Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted to acknowledge the 40 YEARS when the Israelites wandered in the desert. It was one of the many ways he showed that he was Israel’s messiah. Israel failed their time of exile in the desert. But Jesus fulfilled it. He didn’t need food or water to survive: only the Word of God.

Lent Dramatizes Exile

Jesus’ time in the wilderness was like a dramatization of our lives. Life is a wilderness wandering. Or another way to put it: life is a form of exile. Exile is a season in life when you feel cut off from your community or sense of purpose. Exile happens for five reasons:

  1. Rebellion – The Israelites were sent to exile in Assyria and Babylon for rejecting God.
  2. Unbelief – The Israelites wandered for 40 years after refusing to believe in God’s goodness.
  3. Bad Choices – Exile isn’t always about unbelief or rebellion. You might just chose poorly and end up in a dead-end.
  4. Bad Luck – Some times bad things happen that are unrelated to anything you did.
  5. Calling – Some times God calls us to a hard place. Abraham was called into exile in Canaan. Jesus was called to endure the cross.

No matter the reason, exile is a lonely place. We all end up there.  You often feel misunderstood. Out of step. Disjointed. the meaning of lentIt’s a “desert place” that you long to leave but feel stuck. Figuratively it’s a place of “hunger and thirst”…a place of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment. You might even fear that God has left you.

The word for “exile” in Hebrew also means “to expose” or “lay bare”. I think that’s a great picture of what happens in exile. When you go through hard times your heart attitudes are often exposed. Hard times bring out the worst in us. And that leads me back to the meaning of Lent.

Why do we fast during Lent?  To earn brownie points with God?  No. We fast to create an “exile experience” for ourselves. We fast to surface our dark side. We want to “expose” our dark side: “lay it bare” so we can invite God into our lives and renew us.

God Provides a Way Out of Our Exile

I love the words of Psalm 107. They are written about people who walked in exile. They were hungry and thirsty and cut off from their community. But then it says:

…they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. vs. 6-9

You might be going through your own exile today: a relational break down, financial loss, bad health, a dead-end career, etc. God doesn’t abandon you in exile. He wants to satisfy you with good things. You could say that he offers us a “resurrection”. Something to consider this season of Lent and Easter.