A little over a week into Lent, I’m surprised at how scattered my thoughts about self-denial and repentance remain. I suppose it’s not a very fun thing to think about. At least with the other “big” Church season of Advent, we prepare for the revelation of Word made flesh while planning holiday menus and anticipating the spiritual experience of getting loads of loot. Not so with Lent! For nearly two thousand years, Christians have spent forty days in repentance and self-denial preparing to observe the most extreme series of events in human history: Jesus’ undeserved betrayal and gruesome death that make way for the eternal victory of His resurrection.
It can be rightly said that this is a special season of grief for sin and brokenness in ourselves and the world, and turning away from these things back to God. Of course we should seek repentance at all times, but that doesn’t make Lent irrelevant. There is much to gain in approaching this corporately and systematically — or, to use the evangelical lingo, “in community” and “intentionally.” Compared to our full observance of Christmas (and sometimes Advent), we evangelicals tend to tend to sweep Lent and Easter under the rug. Perhaps this is further evidence of our own brokenness, indicating that we don’t always take the the death and resurrection of Christ as seriously as his birth.
My thoughts and convictions on this topic are still not fully formed, but mostly my point here is that these forty days are a special time of examining my own heart and orienting myself more fully towards the gospel. In giving up small things – this year, it’s sleeping in past six o’clock and using the computer after dinner – I’m more aware of how much I hang on to and how much Christ gave up for me. And I’ve failed at one or both of these things every day. This teaches me even more about my own rebellion and powerlessness, and how much I must cling to God in all things. I want Lent to be a big deal because these tangible experiences help break me out of my own fallen perspective and emotions. Rightly understanding my own state of helplessness and defeat is the only way I can rightly understand what the gospel means. In Lent, when I turn my heart towards sorrow for sin and grief for all that brokenness has wrought in my life and the world, I gain a deeper understanding of St. Paul writing: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!” and the traditional liturgy stating: “Thus we proclaim the mystery of faith – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again!”
Though “giving up something for Lent” alone is meaningless, with a contrite heart the tradition of fasting and denial teaches us about surrender, sacrifice, and salvation. These lessons are profoundly valuable. I’m glad to be observing Lent this year, because I know in “giving up” little things to make room for greater devotion to God, I’m learning more about giving up entirely.
“…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:39, esv.