Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Lenten Neophyte

I decided to observe Lent this year.  The decision came one day last week on my drive to work.  I know I’m a bit late to this decision, as Lent began almost two weeks earlier, but I hadn’t given it much thought before then.   For much of Christendom, participation in Lent is assumed.  But I attend a Baptist church where Lent does not register on our ecclesiastical calendar.  Not even a blip on the radar.  You see, we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  The Reformation rid the church of indulgences.  For Baptists, Lent got swept out in the wake.  We suffer for it.

Lent is a season of preparation; a time when Christians prepare for Easter with a forty day period of self-denial.  We enter into the suffering of Christ with some small measure of self-imposed sacrifice.  Some would consider it a form of penance, but because of the sacramental baggage that penance carries, I think of it as a reminder.  My deprivation does nothing to earn my forgiveness, but it does remind me of the great suffering of Christ upon which my forgiveness rests.  When I give up something of value, that deprivation will interfere with my life and disrupt my routine.  This disturbance gets my attention and points me to the cross.  It is the string on the finger as a reminder of the nails in the wrists.  It’s a reminder I need.

When I was a pastor, we held a Good Friday service each year.  I was always startled by how poorly the service was attended.  I couldn’t understand how one of the most sacred days of the church year was largely ignored by my Baptist congregation.  Christians who stake their eternal salvation on the passion of Christ wouldn’t spend even one hour in fellowship with the Christian community for a service to honor that sacrifice.  Each year I left the service wondering if it was worth the effort of planning for the handful that came.  It seems we won’t even embrace one day of reflection on Christ’s suffering, let alone forty.  Forget Lent.  We’ll rush right past Good Friday to Easter.

Our Good Friday service was, admittedly, a sober service, more reflective than celebrative.  But sometimes sober is what we need – space to sing the melancholy hymn “Where You There When They Crucified My Lord” before it is drowned out by the bombastic “Up From the Grave He Arose.”  In fact, the loud celebration of Easter may well be enhanced by the still sorrow and quiet wonder of Good Friday…and Lent.

Today was a glorious day in Central New York – sunny and mid 60s, the perfect weather.  I set aside my plans and opted instead for a long walk with my wife.  I felt compelled to be outdoors.   I suppose if everyday were like this we’d begin to take it for granted.  But part of what makes this day so glorious is that it comes in early March. There was still a bit of snow in our yard at the start of the day.  It has been a mild winter by Syracuse standard, but it’s winter all the same. Mild for Syracuse is still more severe than most.  We’ve had our share of snow and ice, harsh wind and bitter cold. But in thirteen years here I have learned that spring is more glorious when it rescues us from winter.  The contrast with the harsh cold makes the warm sunshine that much sweeter. 

Our ignoring Lent is like wanting spring without winter.  We love to bask in the victory of Easter.  We don’t particularly enjoy entering into the deprivation of Lent.  We’re tempted to put all our eggs in the Easter basket.  But Lent sets the stage for a more intense contrast.  It is a self imposed winter.  It is preparing my heart for Spring.

So I have decided to fast.  My fasting will be modest, even meager.  But remember, I am a Lenten neophyte.  One day a week I will forgo breakfast and lunch.  In no danger of starving, it will still be enough for me to experience hunger.  My stomach will growl and my appetites will groan.  These will be the reminders of a suffering far more intense.      

I’ll have more to share about Lent in the weeks to come.  As I’ll share in my next post, I stumbled out of the gate, but have since gotten my feet under me.  I am learning much about myself that I look forward to writing about.  But in the meantime, I am interested in your experience of Lent.  Some of you readers are far more experienced in this than I.  I’d love to hear how you observe Lent and what it means to you.  Leave it as a response to my blog.  Or e-mail me directly at  I look forward to hearing from you.

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