‘What are you doing for Lent?’ It’s interesting... the question seems to have changed. It used to be ‘what are you giving up for Lent?’ Perhaps it still is for you...
It doesn’t seem that long since Christmas, but Easter is early this year so Lent is almost upon us. I mentioned this to our church on Sunday and said people might like to borrow one of the church library books for some special reading and reflection during Lent; I put some particularly appropriate ones out on display. A couple disappeared – not bad! But I thought a bit later, I didn’t really explain why it’s so good to ‘do something’ for Lent.
Priest poet George Herbert seems to have wanted to put across a similar thing to his congregation:
Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie,
But is compos'd of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev'ry Corporation.
He continues in his third stanza:
True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable...
It doesn’t need to be ‘fasting’, although that could be part of it. It doesn’t have to be reading, reflecting or praying, but that could be part of it. It could be ‘doing something’ else – something practical, something with other people, something in the community.
Perhaps it should be something we tend to put off, something we never get round to doing, something we think will be too hard to do. Whether it’s giving up or taking on, Lent seems to suggest a challenge. We might think of Jesus being tested in the wilderness, which we generally think about on the First Sunday of Lent.
What do I do? I have something I want to read and reflect on. I try to think ahead a bit each year so that I can consider carefully what that will be. This year I’m going to read a book on the ‘Jesus Prayer’. But I also make a habit of giving up coffee and marmalade (yes!). Just little things, I know, but a resolution to do it. It might seem hard at first, but then I discover that I can do it, and I discover something even more important – that I get through the day not through coffee and marmalade, but through the grace and strength of God. Lent isn’t about dieting, but about dependence on God. Priorities change; we start to think less of our own needs or wants.
And then we might even discover other things happening. One year I just realised sometime into Lent that I’d simply stopped doing something else that had a real grip on me.
Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.
That’s a great reason to do something or give something up for Lent. But it’s not really ‘for Lent’; it’s for God, and it’s for Life! No wonder Herbert sees it as a ‘feast’!
With every blessing