In my last blog, I had made mention of the ancient Christian practice of celebrating Lent. My main emphasis then was my observation that, whereas the death and resurrection of Jesus takes up a large portion of the New Testament and is the center of our faith, the stories of the birth of our Lord, while important, take up a small part of our New Testament.
I then wondered why it was that the North American church continues to make Christmas the biggest celebration of the year. Furthermore, the celebration of Easter, attended with its preparation with the celebration of Lent, has receded further into the background. A great many North American Christians know nothing at all of lent. More and more churches no longer celebrate Palm Sunday. Good Friday is sparsely attended. And Easter Sunday, although it is often still the celebration of the church, comes and goes in one Sunday. This practice of emphasizing the incorrect center of our faith (Christmas celebrations) reflects that we have forgotten the center of the gospel (emphasized in celebrating Easter).
One of the reasons that Advent and Christmas have become bigger than Lent and Easter is because Christmas is attended with largess. Easter is attended by sacrifice and self-denial. While we may argue that giving gifts requires some sacrifice on behalf of the giver, it only does so with the expectation that we will all receive presents from someone. The explanation for this is that since God gave His son, we ought also, to both give and receive (or something like that!)
Historically, preparing for Easter required not the purchase of chocolates, but deciding to sacrifice something we might have taken for granted. As the season of Lent began with Ash Wednesday, many Christians committed to times of fasting and praying. Others determined they would give up something.
In the course of time, what we chose to give up had the tendency to become trite. Some gave up their favourite dessert. Others gave up watching TV. Still others gave up a favourite activity. My sense is these minor privations tend to divorce us from the intention of Lent and of the seriousness that was required to approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Let me then suggest a different approach to celebrating Lent, as well as preparing for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I begin by referring to Psalm 139:23–24 (ESV), “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
We know that the death of our Saviour emphasizes that our God takes sin with great seriousness. The punishment for our sin was laid onto our Saviour. By His wounds, we have been healed. And we also know that Christ offers us forgiveness if we will but repent of our sins and surrender to Him. This is possible because Christ died for us.
We will prepare ourselves for Good Friday and Easter when we take our sins as seriously as God does. Psalm 139 invites God to search us to see what practices we might have accepted that are displeasing to the Lord. Why not make this a time when we take a serious inventory of ourselves. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal displeasing ways. Then renounce them and decide to go without them.
We may find ourselves guilty of slander and gossip. Why not give up speaking badly of anyone for the entire period of Lent? Only positive words for 40 days. Can you do it? Or we may have a practice of allowing our anger to control a situation. Why not give up all anger during this season? Or how about lust? What of spending money on our own indulgences? Why not give up any spending on yourself except for the basics of food, etc. Give up that which displeases God in the hope that a 40 day abstention, with the help of the Holy Spirit, might lead to a lifetime of the same!
And then, as we enter into Good Friday, we will remember that Jesus gave up everything for us. Perhaps the practice of meaningful abstinence at Lent will help us to celebrate well.
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