When Lent Meets Chinese New Year
According to the church calendar this year, February 17 was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It marked the beginning of a 40-day spiritual journey lasting till Easter Sunday. Coincidentally, that day was also the 6th day of Chinese New Year. The convergence of these two seasons of differing atmospheres prompts us to ask the Lord for wisdom, to cultivate a heart posture that embraces the differences between faith and culture, while also identifying the common aspects shared by these two seasons.
1st Common Aspect: Remove the Old, Welcome the New
The Chinese have the custom of spring cleaning to welcome the Lunar New Year: to clean and tidy our homes, even including the corners we normally neglect, and to discard old or useless items. After spring cleaning, our homes are renewed, and our spirits are lifted.
The original purpose of Lent was for a baptismal candidate to prepare his heart and consecrate himself to be baptised on Easter Sunday. Over time, the purpose of Lent gradually expanded to become a period of repentance and fasting for every believer, to help believers examine our own spiritual lives, because our sins accumulate over time, just as the clothes we wear accumulate dirt.
Removing the old is neither about denying the value of the past, nor about discarding or abandoning tradition; rather, it is to acknowledge our true selves before God, and trust in God’s grace to take off the old self with its practices.
As it is written in Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” The biblical emphasis on removing the old is to remove the old inner life, to take off the old self with its practices (Col. 3:9). Removing the old is neither about denying the value of the past, nor about discarding or abandoning tradition; rather, it is to acknowledge our true selves before God, and trust in God’s grace to take off the old self with its practices.
2nd Common Aspect: Interpersonal Connections and Fellowship
In Chinese tradition, New Year greetings and visitations are not merely for the purpose of wishing one another well, but also for strengthening the bonds of unity within our families and even our clans. New Year greetings serve the purpose of building interpersonal intimacy and deepening relationships between family and friends.
Of course, this year, due to the pandemic, New Year visitation restrictions were imposed and this might have caused some inconvenience. Nonetheless, we thank God that at least we could host 8 visitors each day. Using technology, we could exchange greetings with our relatives and friends, and even connect with those living overseas.
During the 40-day Lent season, through reading the scriptures, prayer, fasting, and other practices, we intentionally spend more time to draw near to the Lord, with the aim of meditating upon Jesus’ sacrificial love and following the perfect example He set for us on earth. Our Lord Jesus often set aside time and sought suitable places to build an intimate relationship with God.
The best way to get rid of old or bad habits is to develop a good relationship with God, so as to overcome these habits.
Brothers and sisters, the Chinese New Year and Lent seasons both invite us to put off the old and welcome the new. With God’s help, we can overcome sin; with God’s grace, we can put on the life of the new self.
The best way to get rid of old or bad habits is to develop a good relationship with God, so as to overcome these habits. In this new year, and during this Lent season, let us properly practice our devotional disciplines each day, taking practical steps to seek spiritual renewal and to grow in intimacy with God. Amen!
Rev Chua Ooi Suah
Pastor-in-Charge, Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church
Translator: Pr Timothy Ang