Nothing like doing your taxes to get you into the Lenten spirit. I guess that is a good thing because Lent has tried to sneak up on me this year. Ash Wednesday is next week, and I just barely finished putting away my Christmas boxes.
For those that are familiar with Lent, this is the part of the church calendar in which we turn our attention to the darker accounts of Christ's life. We remember his temptation, his suffering and, of course, His death on Calvary. But for many of us when we think of Lent, instead of thinking about the sufferings of Christ, we often think of ourselves. What am I going to give up this year? How do I feel about embracing a challenging season, and so soon after New Year's resolutions? Lent can easily become more of a personal experience than a discovery of the character of Christ. As Eugene Peterson puts it, "God is the subject of life." How quickly in our stories God becomes the object, and we find ourselves as the subject. How quickly in our Lent.
Israel, post-exile started to have seasons similar to Lent. They would have national fast days when they would remember some of the darker parts of their history. They had special days set aside that would memorialize the invasion of Jerusalem, the destruction of temple, and the putting to death of some of their key leaders. It was a way for the Jews to honor their past sufferings, and past sacrifices. It wasn't a bad idea, but in Isaiah 58, God rejects their fast. Not because fasting is bad. And not because they weren't making personal sacrifices. They were. But rather because their fast was about themselves. "'(God) Why aren't you impressed?' 'I will tell you why! It's because you are fasting to please yourselves... This is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people" (from Isaiah 58:3-6).
God isn't opposed to spiritual discipline, but it can be easy to fall into the trap of making our spiritual growth about ourselves. Sometimes the fastest way to grow spiritually is to find someone else's need and to begin to invest energy in helping lighten the load. If God saw our American Lent today would He say, "I don't care if you eat candy or not. But rather go help the immigrants that are stuck in fear by the millions, fix the criminal justice system that incarcerates 1/3 of black men at some point in their lives, fix the proliferation of divorce and the toleration of abortion, provide for the poor and homeless that have nowhere to sleep in your cities, repair the racial and economic divides that fracture your country..." I don't know if that is what God would say, but I know this, His concern this Lent is larger than our Lenten diets, and so as you consider some sort of fast, or abstention this Lent, prayerful consider how you might be able to help the oppressed as well. You might find that when our Lent is bigger than ourselves, it gets filled with more of Christ.
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor