Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Danger of Lent

"What are you giving up?" It's the question that is always heard around this time, on this, the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Yet as I've been thinking about it, I've come to think that Lent is a dangerous time for the Christian - not because it asks too much of us, but because it asks too little.

For many Lent is a second chance in the year, having quickly given up on the New Years Resolutions. Another milestone to begin afresh. The time to give up blogging or chocolate or takeways or whatever the vice is. The focus is on the externals, the giving up of that something which perhaps has a special hold on us - the aforementioned chocolate, for example. Yet while it's given up for the forty days of Lent, there's usually a big splurge beforehand (after all, if I'm not going to have Crunchies for over a month I'd better enjoy them now), and a return to the thing after Lent (for example, a huge Crunchie Easter Egg).

Lent is seen as an achievement - something I have done - which means that it's religion, and not grace. Yes, perhaps giving up those chocolate bars has been a sacrifice, but does it mean anything if you're stuffing your face with them on Easter morning?

Besides, when Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him - the call to self-denial and obedience, he didn't set a time limit on it. He didn't say for forty days in the year (or as many as you can manage without Crunchies) do this. Rather, it's a lifelong commitment of being discipled and disciplined.

If those things that we give up are truly barriers to our Christian life and witness, then we need to give them up for good, not just for Lent. Paul's instruction to Timothy to 'train yourself for godliness' is an everyday instruction (1 Tim 4:7), not a special seasonal statement to be ignored the rest of the year. Similarly, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages them and us to stick at it every day: 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so
closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...' (Hebrews 12:1-2).

So rather than observing a holy Lent and then slipping back into old ways, let's resolve to live a holy life, whatever the season.

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