Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, heralding the beginning of Lent. Typically, this liturgical season involves adopting a devotional activity to mark one’s observance. Often, this involves some type of fasting. We ‘give-up’ something for the 40 days of Lent. What are we to give up? Well, that’s the question. Too easily does Lent become a time of merely stepping away from the treats enjoyed in regular life – the coffee, the chocolate, the candy. In our media-saturated world, it is becoming popular to give up Facebook or other Social Media platforms. We take our 40 days away from posts and shares, likes and comments. We boldly proclaim that we are ‘signing-off’ – and then we live our lives with near-regular routines.
We feel good about these treat-based fasts. We move through the 40 days of Lent seamlessly. After all, we know the routine. We know what to expect. We have felt the coffee withdrawals, or the hunger pains, or the sugar-crashes. These Lenten observances hold nothing new for us. They are, in the grand scheme of things, fairly easy. The ease of these fasts may be more pronounced if we give up the same thing year after year.
Has our Lenten disciplines become little more than easy exercises in self-righteousness? Does giving up my treats amount to an external observance without an inner change? If I give up the same thing year after year, then where is the transformation?
I’m not against giving up our treats per se. All of us would probably do well to step away from the idolatrous grip of self-satisfaction and consumerism. Maybe giving up our treats signifies a dislodging of our idolatries. Perhaps our intemperate love for the treats of life is a deep sign of our spiritual off-centeredness. But maybe it’s not. Maybe we give up our treats because we know it’s manageable and easy and doesn’t impact our lives all that much. After all, do candy bars and potato chips really get in the way of our relationship with Jesus?
“Sorry Jesus, I’d love to spend time with you, but I’m too busy eating a Kit-Kat!”
In order for our Lenten journey to be truly transformative, we must push past these easy observances. Lent involves a journey to the cross, a journey that is not paved with the treats of modern life. This journey to the cross, realised in the celebration of Good Friday and Easter, is marked by our longing for divine closeness. In his 1st letter, Peter reminds his readers that ‘Christ died for sin once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (3:18). The truth we re-hear at Easter is the truth we long to embrace today, that Jesus ushers us into the heart of God.
Lent is a time to look at the relational closeness between ourselves and our Lord. Where do we need to grow closer with Jesus? Where do our actions, our habits, or our attitudes, get in the way the call to faithful living? After all, we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. This means that we still struggle with the likes of sin and waywardness. You sin. I sin. We sin. This sin occurs in a myriad of ways. We sometimes care too much about ourselves than our neighbours; we take up self-indulgent appetites; we live out of anger, or frustration, or doubt; we act uncharitably or unkindly; we forsake justice and fairness. Lives lived in these ways step outside of the relational closeness with God for which we were created, and into which we are continually invited. Does giving up Facebook do justice to our struggle with sin?
If the cross brings us close to God, then our journey to it calls us to look for whatever obstructs this closeness in our lives. Our Lenten observance should address the habits, false worships, and misplaced loves and keep us from experiencing the gracious intimacy with God. It is only as we address these areas, and not the popular treats we enjoy, that we can fully enter the celebration of Easter as transformed people.
Our journey through Lent is a time to think about how we can further enter divine closeness. Christ died to bring us to God. Christ died so that we, in this moment, can experience the liberating power of his salvation. Christ died, and was raised to life, so that we can step away from all that is spiritually destructive. Through the resurrection, and the forgiveness it brings, we are called into a life where we are reminded, by divine voice, that we are the beloved of God. May our journey through Lent grasp this vision of divine closeness, as we turn away from those places where we fall short of God’s call, seeking ways to more deeply enter the loving heart of God. Amen.