Kansas Fields on Fire, taken by GE.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent for many church-goers. Lent is the 40-day time period before Easter where one is supposed to fast or sacrifice a pleasure to help them remember the sacredness of Easter, of what Jesus sacrificed for us on the Cross. The 40 days is to signify the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan.
In some traditions, there is an emphasis on the stations of the Cross during this time. For some traditions, tonight will be the night they decide on what they are going to “give up” for lent – chocolate, alcohol, electronics, social media, smoking – and they will commemorate the decision by attending a service where an ashen X will drawn upon their forehead.
Not growing up with this tradition, it’s always fascinated me. The whole idea of lent is for the participant to experience a religious event as opposed to merely observe it. I love this idea – it’s why communion and baptism are such important sacraments for our tradition. It’s an event that must be experienced, not just observed.
But there is a part of Lent that I don’t understand. From what I can gather, what most people give up for lent are actually bad habits, not real sacrifices. I’m sure stopping smoking for the smoker is very difficult, as is not eating for those of us who overeat. But are either one of those really a sacrifice? If the point is to get a taste of what sacrifice is – there’s got to be some better exercises, right?
I freely admit that I may not have the whole picture on the Lent tradition. My understanding of all of this may very well be off. It’s completely possible that my assumptions are based on those who are just poor in carrying out the tradition. Being a Christ-follower has given me a few experiences of being in that same camp.
However, I think I may have another issue with the concept of Lent. (Or at least my understanding of it.)
Are the things we are supposed to “give up” get us closer to God? By these sacrifices of habits, are we somehow in a better place to get to God? Is my attention now more on my sacrifice than what Jesus did?
I’m not anti-lent. I’m seriously asking these questions. And if you practice Lent, I pray it has deep meaning for you in this way – it helps you remember Jesus.
Jesus set out to correct a religious system that said if you do these things, these outward practices – you will be closer to God. How many times did Jesus teach – you do these things – fast, pray, give, worship, sacrifice – yet your hearts are still far from God. Repent, draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Easter was about destroying every obstacle between humanity and God that was preventing a real, eternal relationship between them. Namely sin and death. Only Jesus could fix that mess. He died and sacrificed not so we wouldn’t have to sacrifice but because we couldn’t. There was no sacrifice we could ever make that would get us closer to God.
I am reminded that Easter destroyed the notion that we can get to God by doing certain actions, holding certain traditions, or even sacrificing greatly in the name of God. I am reminded that Jesus’ resurrection provides all I need to know God.
Here’s praying we make much of Jesus in the next 40 days.