Matt Woodly hosts a podcast where he interviewed Aaron Damiani on the counter-cultural nature of Lent. In an episode of “Preaching Today“, Damiani briefly begins to describe how Lent and liturgy are “intentional practices that shape our souls”. Here are excerpts from that interview:
AD: I think a lot of people are not ready for Easter. The awkward, “He is risen” and then “Yeah, he is risen indeed.” We’re not ready to celebrate his resurrection. So Lent prepares us for Easter and shapes us in such a way where we’re ready for heaven, we want to be with the Lord. I find that, more and more culturally speaking, we need to keep Christian time in order to be counter-formed so that we don’t go down the lazy river of the culture.
MW: Logistically, Lent is 40 days, obviously a lot of biblical images of 40 days, Jesus in the wilderness 40 days, children of Israel 40 days, all that kind of thing. Starting with Ash Wednesday and then going all the way up until Easter…
AD: I had to learn to love the Lent. I did not grow up practicing Lent… I think a lot of people in our culture feel the diminishing returns of over-consumption. We certainly did… So I discovered the freedom by watching people live it out…
So here’s what happens in Lent: I [lead people] on a 40-day pilgrimage. So they show up to church a little bit more often, they come with open hearts, and it’s a personal thing for them. It’s coming at a cost to them. So what happens when I’m preaching is that people have an appetite for the Word of God that wasn’t there before. That means that the sermon is more connective and that there’s more spiritual fruit that’s born. So that’s why Lent is one of my favorite times to preach.
It’s that light of Easter that we can see over the hills as we’re walking in the 40-day pilgrimage:
Now, as we consider our own life, maybe the story of the Laodiceans hits home. Maybe we feel no need for God. Maybe we’ve over-assimilated to the air around us. Maybe we’re lukewarm, we lack passion for God. We’re no longer a source of God’s refreshing, we’re no longer a source of God’s healing. Maybe our wealth or our independence or our learning, or our growing influence makes us feel like we don’t need God anymore. Maybe we’ve become so blind to our spiritual need because we’ve become useful, we’ve become impressive like the Laodiceans. But you know what, maybe you can’t relate with the Laodiceans. Maybe you don’t. Because it’s not so much that you don’t need God, it’s that for the life of you, you can’t feel God. Something inside of you has gone numb. You’re sitting at the table with Jesus but you can’t quite hold His gaze because the thrill is gone. The love has died, and in its place is spiritual doubt, confusion, deadness and a massive disconnect between your head and your heart. If that’s you, please know that Jesus has everything you need to return to your first love. His grace for you is inexhaustible. He’s holding all the gifts in His hands, ready to give them to you, even tonight.
If that describes you and you feel numb, here are some diagnostic questions that Jesus might ask you tonight. When was the last time you ever let me satisfy you, really? Have you ever been hungry enough to be hungry for my love? Have you ever been watchful enough, attentive enough, or have every single time you’ve ever had any kind of hunger of the body have you completely satisfied it to the overflow with the means and the tools you have available to you? Do you just not need me at all, really? I mean think about it, do you need me at all in your life? Have you ever made space in your life for me to satisfy you? Because there’s a real strong connection, friends, between spiritual numbness and bodily indulgence.
… Listen to Jesus in his warning to not let the satisfying realities of the world, which are so easy, to assimilate us, to assimilate our habits, to assimilate our hearts, to assimilate our lives to the broader culture. What happens when we trust the living Jesus with our desires is that he transforms us, but if we are so fearful of being physically uncomfortable, it makes us spiritually numb. So I wanted the Word of God to wake us up from that place of numbness.
MW: So I’m gathering, Lent is counter-cultural.
AD: I think there is something about a spiritual pilgrimage that is culturally interesting, so I think that Lent is becoming more interesting to the broader culture. The path of Lent is very culturally surprising and counter-cultural… I find that it is a very healthy counter-formation for us who live in America…
Catch the vision that Lent is pointing to. Use [Lent] to prepare your people for Easter. Don’t let them be caught off guard when you’re celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and victory over evil. Take the vision of Lent and then adjust the means so that it fits your people and fits your context. So you can still call people to repentance, you can still call people to be formed into the image of Christ, you can still point to the Cross, the meaning of the Cross, you can still call people to an intentional 40-day journey, which I think a lot of people want. They want their pastor to call them on a spiritual pilgrimage that will shape them according to Christ’s image and bond them to Christ.
Aaron Damiani is the pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, a church plant in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent.