Okay, that’s an ironic eye catcher.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the church calendar season of Lent. What is Lent? Why do people celebrate Lent? Should I as a protestant celebrate Lent? Should I give up gossip for Lent?
These are all good questions (well, maybe not the last one, but I’ll try to answer it anyway).
What is Lent?
Lent is the forty-day period leading up to Easter Sunday (although in some Christian circles it is longer). The forty days was chosen in remembrance of the 40 days that Jesus entered the wilderness and fasted and prayed before entering into his earthly ministry in ernest. This was also the time in which he was tempted by Satan in very specific ways.
Isn’t it just a Catholic thing?
Although assumed to be a Roman Catholic observance, many protestant denominations continue to observe lent (Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans or Episcopalians, and yes, even Presbyterians).
Why do we celebrate Lent and what is it for?
Typically the season is observed through more devoted times of prayer and penitence (or confession), alms giving (or caring for the poor in specific ways) and self-denial (giving something up for those forty days).
The prayer and penitence is understandable as we come closer and closer to the day of Christ’s death for our sin and his resurrection for our salvation. It is good and appropriate to spend a season in close communion with our Savior.
The Alms giving or caring for the poor – a call for Christians at all times of the year – is especially appropriate as we recall our own spiritual poverty Christ came to change.
And finally (the part of Lent that gets the most attention in the US today) self-denial. During Lent Christians deny themselves something they enjoy or perhaps even rely upon. The lesson is a combination of remembering what our Savior denied Himself when he left His throne and came to earth to die for our sins. But we also learn through this season of self-denial that our hope is in Christ alone or else it is no hope at all. We give up things during Lent to remind ourselves that these are not our comfort. Christ is our comfort.
Should you observe Lent?
An interesting question. Lent, like all other liturgical calendar events, is a freedom in Christ matter, like Christmas or the advent season leading up to it, and Easter, and even the avoidance of that dreaded candy holiday Halloween. One day is special to someone and is no big deal to someone else. So if asked “should” in a “are you supposed to” I would have to say, no. But if by should we simply mean, “Is it good for you to observe Lent?” I’d have to say yeah, it’s good for you.
As Americans all of us could stand a bit more self denial when it comes to our ways of life. And it is good for us to identify with both our Savior who denied Himself and with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who live in impoverished states not forty days a year but all year.
What should you give up for Lent?
Well, that’s the real question isn’t it. You could find something that as a family you do or use a lot but is really not a necessary part of life, TV, Candy, Soda (or Pop, depending on what part of the country you’ll be in during Lent). If you are going to do this, you really need to have a replacement plan especially for your younger kids. They need to understand the why’s behind the denial and what is accomplished by it. If it’s TV then replace those times with times of prayer and Scripture and family time and fun activities. Don’t come home though if you have young children at home and announce to your wife the whole family is giving up all forms of TV entertainment for Lent. If your kids are young and the only quiet moments in your bride’s day are during Blues Clues and Dora, Lent may best be observed individually for your household circumstances.
Some items for Lenten consideration: TV, Internet entertainment, facebook, beer, alcohol, chocolate, sweets, dessert, running, working out, smoking. The list is as varied as we are. Things that you do as a freedom in Christ that when someone mentions not doing it, you get a little sweaty. You start saying things like, “Well, yeah I could give that up, but I think that would be silly and legalistic.” Or, “Well, that’s not really what Lent is about. And really it’s not healthy for me to give that up.” Really only you know what would be a self-denial. For example, I can’t claim that I am going to give up March Madness for Lent. I gave up March Madness decades ago. I have no interest in college basketball. There is nothing self-denying about giving up something I am not in the least bit interested in.
Ways NOT to celebrate Lent:
Don’t give up sin for Lent. Don’t give up gossip or an argumentative spirit or things like that for Lent. News flash: You’re supposed to be giving those things up all year.
Don’t use Lent as a way to subtly announce how holy you are. Don’t find ways to work your Lent into conversations. Don’t listen to conversations about the latest happenings on Hell’s Kitchen or Celebrity Apprentice and look for opportunities to say things like, “Oh, I didn’t see that episode. I gave up TV for Lent.” or “That cupcake looks delicious. I wish I could have one, but I gave up chocolate for Lent.” Sentences like “I missed that episode,” and “no thank you,” work surprisingly well in those same situations.
Also, don’t use lent to re-commit to your diet this year. If you want to get more serious about that resolution you made in January, great, but don’t stick a cross on it and call it Lent.
And finally, don’t give up something that really is more of a sacrifice for someone else than it is for you. Men, don’t give up bathing or shaving. Ladies, don’t give up sex (or shaving). Don’t give up working in the yard or helping with nursery. Don’t give up date night.
Here is one thing I learned recently about Lent that makes it one of the coolest seasons in my opinion. If you count from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday you get more than 40 days. What is that all about? I’m glad you asked. Each Sunday is a mini Easter celebration and a break from the fast. Whatever you gave up for Lent, On Sunday you should enjoy that thing or activity in celebration of What Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection. Every Sunday is a reminder of what Jesus said about fasting. “You don’t fast when the bridegroom is around. That’s actually an insult to the Groom. You party, you celebrate when the Bridegroom is here.” So every Sunday is supposed to be a celebration, a happy reminder that we have been saved and one day we will be in Glory with our Bridegroom forever.
Whether you observe Lent or not, my prayer for you is that as we approach the time of the year in which we remember the cost of our sin and celebrate our salvation secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you will seize opportunities to pray , to care for others, to remember what our Savior gave up when He came to earth for our salvation.