More on Lent
February 19, 2015
Todd Johnson

Yesterday we began the season of Lent. And (just like last year) as Lent begins, so do the articles denouncing Lent begin to appear. Yesterday I saw one. It was from an outspoken evangelical bemoaning the fact that so many protestants are observing Lent. Rather than giving you a link to his article (and driving up his "hits"), I thought I would simply offer a few on my own musings about Lent.

Why observe Lent? I could give you many reasons, but one that I come back to each year is the fact that observing Lent connects me to the church - the church worldwide and the historic church across time. The Church is worldwide not just American. Yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, there were Christians on every continent, speaking many languages and from various denominations, who had ashes placed on their foreheads. Did I have to do it? No! But does this bodily expression help remind me that I belong to a family that is global and not just white, American, or like-me? You bet! In addition, Christians have been practicing Lent since the 3rd Century. It is a historic act. In a world that lacks rootedness - that tries to unplug reality from our history - being rooted and connected to the historic church seems like a good thing to do. But I don't want to make it normative for everyone, so perhaps I should just say that being connected to the historic church helps this guy remember that Jesus is writing a story that is so much bigger than my little individualistic, Americanized Christianity.

How might we think about Lent? Again, there are a number of thoughts I could offer here, but I simply want to remind myself (and you) that Lent from the Protestant perspective is NOT about what you are giving up. It is about what you are gaining. Saying "No" to something during Lent, is only done so that we can say "Yes" to God in new and fresh ways*. Thus for Lent, it may even be helpful not to ask, "What am I giving up?" but to ask, "What can I take on or add?" So even though I may choose to fast and even though one way to say it is that I am "giving up food", I choose to think about it and talk about it as adding times of prayer and solitude.

Why observe Lent (reprise)? I must also add that one of the other reasons I have personally enjoyed observing Lent is because of the fact that Lent - by design - helps to prepare me for Easter. I will freely admit that before I began observing Lent, Easter would sneak up on me. In those days, Easter - though it was enjoyable - became a flash in the pan that quickly passed like a train in the night. I began to notice that this didn't happen with Christmas. Retailers and cultural events made sure that we had a season before Christmas to prepare. At Christmas, our culture helps us enjoy the Messiah because everywhere we looked we see reminders of his birth. With Easter it is not that way. Beyond the Easter candy aisle at Kroger, very few cultural structures help prepare me for Easter. And I don't want Easter to simply slip on by. Lent helps this not happen.

As I said in last year's post, you don't have to observe Lent. I do encourage you to try it. And if you do choose to engage in a Lenten Season, I hope some of the above musings might help.

* I am indebted to John Cunningham at our mother church, Trinity Presbyterian, for pointing this out.

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