Rev. Elder Darlene Garner
Lent is the season of the Christian Year that covers the period of approximately six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. The traditional purpose of Lent is to prepare the believer for the experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up some favorite thing, either as a form of penitence or in imitation of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
Some Christian traditions begin the season of Lent with a special mid-week service that includes placing actual ashes upon the forehead of the believers, hence the name Ash Wednesday. Many churches conduct the Ash Wednesday service in the middle of the day. The believers wear the ashes on their foreheads wherever they go throughout the rest of the day, a visible sign of their penitence.
Even in Christian traditions that may not actually impose ashes, there is the spiritual practice of giving up something for Lent. Believers are encouraged to fast from, or to give up, something or some habit that brings them particular comfort or delight…like biting one’s fingernails, chewing gum, eating meat, or drinking alcohol, caffeine, or soft drinks. Making such an intentional decision to do without that which brings comfort is a spiritual discipline that believers engage in as an act of personal sacrifice and in the hope that such sacrifice will be pleasing to God.
The tradition in the church of my childhood includes each member of the church being given a coin folder at the beginning of Lent. The folder had 40 slots in it; we were to make a sacrifice by placing a quarter (25-cent piece) in one of the slots each day. By the time the folders were returned to church on Easter Sunday, every believer would have sacrificed at least $10 USD that the church would then usually use for catching up on overdue bills.
Ash Wednesday is upon us once again; it is time for us to consider what — if anything — we are willing to give up for Lent this year. As we think about this thing, it would be good for us to look again to the words of the prophet as recorded in Isaiah 58:
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isaiah 58:4b, 5
It is in the spirit of Isaiah that I wonder, of all the penitent actions that we might take, which of our actions would make the days of Lent 2013 most acceptable to God? What could we choose to give up that might bring holiness to our lives, strength to our church, and peace to our world?
I propose that the choices we make for our Lenten fast could enable us to manifest holiness, strength, and peace not only during Lent but throughout the year. I believe:
- Our lives would become more holy if we gave up gossip rather than gum; if we let go of our need to dominate others rather than simply giving up our desire to dine out; if we covered our attitudes with gratitude instead of merely covering our foreheads with ashes.
- Our church would become stronger if we gave up on trying to escape from our responsibility to care for one another instead of giving up on each other; if we gave up criticizing instead of giving up caffeine.
- Our world would have more peace if we gave up being apathetic by investing 25 minutes a day in prayerful action for the cause of human rights instead of giving up 25 cents a day for the sake of some overdue bill.
Let’s try it, even if only for the next forty days. If we do, we might be surprised to discover the glory that will await us on Easter morning.