Join my challenge for Lent in 2013
On Wednesday, I was at Stacks, by favorite local eatery, when I noticed a man coming in. He had what appeared to be dirt on his forehead. Then I saw his wife and several others with cross-shaped smudges on their foreheads. It dawned on me. It's Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I should have known; I was busy getting my remarks together for our Ash Wednesday service later that evening. It moved me to see the public witness of those Christians. They were literally marked for Christ. It made me want to go to an earlier service so I could join them!
Why do we bother with Lent and Ash Wednesday and Shrove Tuesday and Holy Week and Palm Sunday and all the "stuff" that's coming our way in the next 46 days? It has origins in the earliest of Christian churches, probably as early as 200 C.E. Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday because it is traditional to have pancakes and other sweets to use up any fats and sugars in the home prior to the lean weeks of Lent. Lent is 40 days (not counting Sundays - because they were considered "little Easters") of prayer and fasting in order to share in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It's 40 days because that's how long Christ was tempted in the wilderness.
But back to my original question, "Why bother with Lent?" What can our post-modern culture gain from this ancient practice? Well, I can't answer that for everyone, but I know why it's important to me. Beyond the superficial New Year's Resolutions I come up with, Lent is a time to really step back and take a good look at myself. Resolutions may be losing weight or getting out of debt. Both of those are just symptoms. Lent is when I look inside myself and say, "What's broken? What hurts? What keeps me from enjoying life in Christ? What grudges am I holding onto? Where am I on my spiritual journey? Am I the person God intends me to be?" During Lent, I intentionally take the time to do self-examination. In my prayer time, then, I can begin to work with God to change from within. But, it's not just about me. Lent is also a time when we are called to care for the poor and oppressed among us. So now I must turn my gaze outward, and ask some of the same types of questions. "What's broken with society, my world, my community? Who is hurting? What prevents others from enjoying a life in Christ? What prejudices surround me? Who's holding a grudge that's literally eating them alive? Where are my friends and family and congregation in their faith journey, and how can I be of assistance to them as they move toward the cross? Is my world what God intends it to be?"
Tough questions. I don't want to face them. But like the bare trees outside that must be cut back in order to bloom in spring, I must turn inside and begin the process of pruning in order to prepare for new growth. I can give up chocolate for Lent - but seriously, is that going to make any kind of spiritual sacrifice on my part? I'll just chomp down on a huge chocolate bunny on Easter day. What lesson is learned?
But if I give up.....
• shopping for anything other than the ACTUAL necessities of life
• electronics - phones, iPads, computers, etc. except when necessary for our work
• media - newspapers, magazines, television, internet
and spend all that time changing my world - interior and exterior. What would happen to me? to my world? Grace, perhaps?
That's why I bother with Lent. Do you? Drop me a line and join in my challenge - Lent 2013! I pray we all have a holy and blessed Lent. I'll pray for you. You pray for me. Let's change our world!
• Reach the Rev. Caren Bigelow Morgan, pastor of Waxhaw United Methodist Church, at 704-843-3931.