18 February 2013

Nigeria: The Season of Lent


Christians all over the world are observing the season of Lent, which began last week. It is a 40-day period marked by fasting, prayers, penance, repentance, self-denial and works of charity in remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians end Lent with the celebration of Easter, which is the triumph of Jesus over sin; and his taking over burdens of their own sins.

At Lent, eating of meat and associated products are traditionally prohibited as a mark of self-discipline, and a form of "spiritual tithing". In North America, Christians now deny themselves only a favourite item of consumption, such as chocolate or alcohol.

Key themes of Lent include a time to reflect on the social implications of Jesus offering to be tortured, mocked, humiliated and killed on the cross amid a thief and a murderer - all for the benefit of other people's upliftment from oppression - and his triumph over them all.

The annual season of Christians preparing for Easter, regarded as the greatest of the Christian festivals, is a national asset if used for taking stock of wrongs done in the past year; and mapping out corrective initiatives which would be practicalized individually and collectively as a form of "spiritual growth and conversion". In Nigeria, vigorous traditions of worship by the country's Christian community continues to be a great potential for fighting ills of corruption; making sacrifices for the wellbeing of the country's education and health sectors; achieving agricultural and industrial growth; as well as ending kidnappings for quick wealth through ransoms, and violent murders, etc.

The Tuesday before Lent in known as "Shrove Tuesday". In European tradition it is regarded as the last chance to use up the food Christians would not be eating during Lent. This tradition has yielded various festivals in countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Germany, and Italy. The most famous festivals are the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and the "Mardi Gras" in New Orleans (U.S.). Christian missionaries in Africa probably avoided adopting it due to colonial governments being wary about cultural nationalism rolling into political anti-colonial self-awareness. In a season of violence which has followed the end of the Cold War, it would be useful to build this festival of celebration of creative triumphs of the spirit. A resultant flow of tourists would bring in useful income.

With Nigeria going through serious challenges on all fronts - moral depravity, pervasive insecurity, endemic poverty, sectarian violence and many others - the Lenten season offers everyone, Christian and non-Christian, the opportunity to reflect on their lives as a people who openly profess, if not flaunt, their religiosity.

In this Lenten season, all Nigerians, irrespective of their religious beliefs, should see the period as also being appropriate one for a reflection on challenges that confront the nation and the world at large today. As everyone strives during this season to overcome even a single sin that encumbers individuals and the community from God, better individuals will emerge, and with this emergence, a better position to contribute more positively in resolving the numerous political, development and moral challenges that face the country and mankind.

Lent also carries the legacy of Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 days while trudging to the "Promised Land". At a time when in Nigeria and across Africa, there are loud voices of despair, cynicism, alienation from leaders in most sectors of life with political leaders on the front, it is vital that Christians use the season of Lent to set their eyes resolutely on working to achieve a promised land of triumphs of excellence in all spheres.

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