We are currently in the church season of Lent. Lent and Christian baptism go hand in hand.
Lent historically functioned as a time of final preparation for those who would be baptized at Easter. In some traditions, it still functions that way.
But Lent is also a period of repentance and “preparation” for Holy Week for those who are already Christians. What exactly does it mean? Is it about contemplating Christ’s sufferings? Having a deeper spiritual life? Intentionally focusing on spiritual growth? Thinking exceptionally deep thoughts about God? Identifying with the poor or the marginalized? Doing something extra for God? Reforming some character flaw? Protestant churches which observe Lent are all over the map about its practice and the purpose.
Let me suggest that baptism is still perhaps the best lens through which to look at Lent. Thinking of Lent as a period of baptismal renewal, I think, could have a profound impact on our Lenten practices. I’m not even sure where this road might take us.
As it prepared to baptize new believers, the ancient church prayed with them and anointed them and exorcised their demons and instructed them in the meaning of the faith. Yes, fasting was a part of the practice, but it was not the whole. Lent was not an exercise in spiritual navel gazing; it was an activity by which the church assisted in the spiritual birth of new Christians.
The renewal of one’s baptism is an activity that also requires the church to act. The church praying for its members, meeting together for encouragement and accountability, restoring those who have become alienated, seeking those who have dropped out, teaching the meaning of the baptismal creed: these to me are vital Lenten activities because they are fundamental to baptismal renewal. Sharing the Lord’s table in also an act of covenant renewal and should be observed frequently during Lent. The baptismal ritual of the United Methodist Book of Worship has liturgical resources for the renewal of baptismal vows. The end of the Lenten season is a perfect time to use these liturgies. Wesley’s “Covenant Renewal” ritual also fits better in Lent, I think, than as a New Year’s Eve service.
Preparing for baptism and confirmation are natural Lenten activities. Lent also provides the church the opportunity, I think, to assist all of its members to reclaim and reaffirm their baptism. To that end, individual spiritual disciplines are important, but so are corporate disciplines.