Yes, it’s a custom. No, it isn’t mentioned in Scripture. Yes, it is celebrated by many faiths and denominations. No, I am not converting – to anything. Yes, there are many traditions associated with Lent. No, there is not one way to observe Lent. Yes, it is all about activities leading up to Easter about six weeks away. No, it isn’t exactly 40 days. Yes, it is both about introspection and outpouring. No, it’s not all about fasting. Yes, many will fast in some way or form.
I’m sorry but my background is such that I have to always caveat religious traditions like Lent.
Christmas was always hard – we celebrated it with gifts, fun, family, and happiness but we didn’t talk about it too much “in church.” After all, we didn’t really know when Jesus was born, now did we? And besides, is celebrating his birth really want he wanted us to do? But what to do with all of those Christmas songs in the back of our song books? That was awkward – when do we sing them? We couldn’t really sing them in July – that would really be weird. But singing them during the Christmas season in December had to be done with trepidation and concern, too, and usually required some kind of disclaimer like: “The world celebrates the birth of Jesus this week but we celebrate his birth and death and resurrection every week. Amen.” It was always a hard thing.
Easter, for us, was usually about family photos, everyone dressing up nice on Sunday for church, our mothers preparing a nice family-and-friends meal. Easter was when Spring had arrived and it could be chilly and snowy or sunny and brisk. It was a good day. But again, we had to disclaim the religious connotations of the calendar event – we weren’t too sure about the actual resurrection date so we shouldn’t get too worked up about things, should we?
We always had good times when Christmas and Easter rolled around. But mostly these occasions were nothing more than very pleasant times because of family, friends, vacations, and so forth. There is nothing wrong with that but I honestly always wondered why we all couldn’t take several days out of the year and focus – really focus – on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I always understood that we had not a clue as to when these things happened but that didn’t really seem too important to me – why not acknowledge and seriously consider the miracle of God coming to us as a baby, living as a boy and young man, being unfairly murdered, and then amazingly being brought back to life? Now that is really something special, it seems to me.
In many traditions we talk about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus every Sunday. We use Scripture to back up our reasoning for doing this. That’s fine. But somehow this understanding of Scripture has trumped the possibility of having any additional days to consider the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I suppose I am revealing, now, my fundamental way of interpreting and applying Scripture, but I’m not real sure that celebrating Jesus on Sundays (just on Sundays?) somehow obviates several other days during the year when we can also celebrate the life and times of Jesus.
I will admit that when I spent time in Eastern Europe, I absolutely had to get over my religious-dates-and-traditions phobias. What helped me most to get over my hesitation to celebrate calendared events was seeing the sincerity, passion, honesty, and devotion shown by people during some of these special days of the year. I had never been to a market to select a lamb for slaying. I had never seen a lamb slain for religious purposes – as a symbol. I had never seen the hard-working and kind hands of a host prepare the lamb for a religious meal – we ate the pieces of the lamb together around a joyous and happy Easter table. It was very moving and emotional for me.
I had never stood outside at midnight to greet a resurrection Sunday with hundreds and hundreds of people – they literally standing in the streets all bundled up in jackets and coats because a church was full and it was cold outside. Each – man, woman, child – stood with a small white candle. And everyone was singing hymns together, and when someone would arrive then one with a lit candle would offer his flame to the one just arriving. How sweet to see the sharing of flames. And then at midnight – great bells would peal through the city. People in the streets would hug each other – families and friends – and offer words of blessing and encouragement.
As an outsider looking in, I was humbled and moved by what I was understanding and experiencing but, also, it made me very aware of perhaps how spiritually dry and exclusive I had become. I told this to others in the hubbub and noise – they hugged me and smiled. After all, we didn’t speak the same language. It was a happy time, though, and it truly was the beginning of a spiritual renaissance in me.
I fully understand that we can’t bank our salvation on days and traditions, but considering the amount of time, energy, and effort that we expend every year on Super Bowl Sunday, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, why not share several days out of the year with many hundreds of millions all around the world who are thinking about and focusing on Jesus?
Even in my conflicted state, I have come to appreciate Advent and Lent and several other traditional religious holidays only because they are yet another reminder that Christ can fully and completely exist in an otherwise very secular world. I am happy and content to think about and talk about Jesus any day of the year – and on special days, too.
I remember as a little boy growing up with Walter Cronkite. He would tell us on his nightly newscast about the raging conflict in Vietnam. He had pictures. I remember he would tell us about holiday cease-fires on or around Christmas Day. (As far as I know during my lifetime, a major war has never been postponed on Super Bowl Sunday or July 4th or on any other special day, for that matter.) I vividly remember Walter telling us whether there had been any violations or casualties during the Christmas Day cease-fires – it was serious business to break the cease-fires. What was it that could actually make two warring nations take pause for several days and not fire a shot, launch a missile, or drop a bomb?
You and I will celebrate – or not – Lent and any other calendar event. That is fine and I grant you your choice. It isn’t something worth worrying about. For me, however – and based on my real-life education and experiences from the past ten years or so – Lent season is something that draws me and, especially this year, it comes at exactly the right time for me and where I am. I need to focus – even more – on Jesus and my role in his world and on his role in my world. Of course, I can focus without the benefit of a calendared event, but there I go again – always having to be exclusive and different instead of taking what is obviously apparent and readily available and making it something special, meaningful, and worthwhile.
I will be celebrating Lent for the next 40 days. I invite you to walk with me as I read from Lent 2013. I have put this link in the menu bar at the top of this website – you can click on it each and every day of Lent and it will present a daily updated reading for your encouragement, edification, and consideration.
– Sincerely devote time to Jesus during this Lenten season – as I shall every day of the year
– Focus on the weeks and days leading up to the denial, death and burial of Jesus
– Focus on the days when Jesus was not with us
– Focus on the day of Jesus’ resurrection