I recently heard a friend say that he was giving up Lent for Lent. That might sound cute but I think many Christians have done that already - and continue to do it yearly. I think the problem is that we do not understand what purpose the Lenten season serves in the worship life of our churches.
The most common Lenten practice is fasting, that is giving up something that you value or enjoy for the forty days leading up to Good Friday. Some might not know that the traditional church sometimes takes Sundays off from the fasting - indicating that this is a labour unto God. So why would fasting be a labour?
The notion that fasting is costly is common enough. That it means giving up something that we treasure. But if it is also a labour - then something replaces the thing given up in the fast. I am suggesting that one of the purposes of Lent is to create a tradition of corporate prayer and reflection. That if we simply give up something then we are missing the most important part - the labour.
I'm not suggesting that this labouring saves us - but I wonder if sometimes we hide behind the faith not works line and miss that according to James, real faith always manifests in works. The easy connection to labour is to replace the time spent enjoying the thing given up with time of reflection and prayer. But what if we got a bit more creative here. Try to think of what would be the Kingdom work that we can replace our sacrifice with?
If I give up coffee for Lent, why not take the money I would have spent on coffee and invest it in education in the country where the beans are grown, often at a terrible cost to the farmers who grow them? Or why not take that money and invest it in protecting the rainforests that are being clear cut to grow more beans?
If I give up TV for Lent, why not take the time I would have spent watching shows to play music for a local inner city mission? I love my entertainment as much as the next person, so why not share that joy with folks who really could use a bit of entertainment? Or why not take the time you would have watched shows to play board games with your family and friends - one of the things I've seen happen with Lent is that the new pattern or activity can become more important than the old one. And 40 days is just enough time to develop a new habit.
I'm sure you all can come up with more examples. I wonder if you would like to share them with us, especially the ones you've already done. Let's think of Lent as a possibility, and opportunity to do good and not just a time to sacrifice.
Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ontario Region