Tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) marks the start of Lent and in the next few weeks, it’s likely you’ll hear the question “What are you giving up for Lent?” How should we as Christians celebrate Lent? How can we celebrate it without the feelings of sombreness, despair and guilt that the season is often associated with? A couple of thoughts on this issue.
First, the way that the above question is phrased (What are you giving up?) gets us off on precisely the wrong note. It focuses on abstinence rather than activity, and on us rather than on Christ. If you're going to “do something” for Lent, make sure the focus is not on self-deprivation or inactivity. Instead, focus on devoting yourself positively to something spiritually beneficial such as half an hour reading your Bible or some other Christian book, a few minutes praying or meditating on and memorising some Psalms. Pursue abstinence or self-deprivation only if it helps you pursue these positive goals. Miss a meal, withdraw from Facebook or get up a bit earlier, for example, you can have more time to read and pray.
Second, remember that Sunday is still the Lord’s Day, i.e. Resurrection Day, even during the period of Lent. Strictly speaking, of course, the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter aren't part of Lent at all. Do the sums: Ash Wednesday (1st March) to Holy Saturday (15th April) is 46 days; take away the 6 Sundays and you're left with the 40 days of Lent. Sunday is still a day of celebration, so let's keep it that way. Don't let Lent leak into Sundays. And one way to ensure this is by being at church every Sunday (including the Sundays in Lent) where we sing songs of praise and celebrate Holy Communion with joy.
Third, don't judge others who do things differently from you. Of course, it's possible to observe Lent in a spirit of more-pious-than-thou self-righteousness. It's also possible that not observing Lent may reflect an attitude of indifference and laziness with regard to our Christian discipleship. I'm not sure which is worse, and, thankfully, those are not the only options. But we all need to beware of assuming that we know people are doing things differently from ourselves. The Apostle Paul's comments in Romans 14:3, though not written with Lent in mind, are certainly relevant here: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”
Parish article for the week beginning 26th February 2017 AD (with thanks to SJ)