The time of Lent is soon upon us — early, this year as Easter is early. It is the time that Christians remember Christ’s forty days of trial in the Wilderness, where he was tempted by the Satan. It is a time of prayer, repentance, reflection and atonement for Christians. I once heard a Jewish comedian compare it to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement; “Forty days, one day, forty days, one day…even for sin you pay retail!” I thought that was funny, even though it misses the element of preparation that is part of Lent.
By tradition, among Southern Methodists by whom I was raised, at least, the remembrance during Lent takes the form of self-denial — giving up something — from Ash Wednesday until Easter morning, excluding Sundays. People I’ve known have practiced fasting (usually from sunrise to sunset which can cause trouble when daylight savings time starts), donating the price of a meal each day, eschewing favorite beverages or food, and such. More recently, some folks have started adding something they wouldn’t normally do to their routine in lieu of or in addition to sacrificing something. In either case, the point is to perform an act that, when you do it, reminds you of Christ and his sacrifice for us. I usually stay with giving up something as it is what I was raised to do. As a result, one of the major questions I have to answer this time of year is “What shall I give up for Lent?”
My mother was always very serious about Lent and she felt it was her duty as a Christian parent to assist God in running the universe as it applied to me and my siblings. Not only did I have to tell her what I was giving up, she would monitor my successes and failures. Having a “Lent cop” on duty kind of skewed the selection process when picking out something to give up, let me tell you. It had to be something you could live completely without for the next six weeks. She didn’t believe in the “Sundays off” rule (Did Jesus get one day off each week in the Wilderness? I don’t think so!) or in the words of the minister who pointed out that even a failure brought Jesus to mind and that was the whole point. Partaking of something you had chosen to give up during Lent was betraying Jesus and we’d have none of that around our house, thank you. The year I took the ninth grade Civics class and learned about the Constitution, I tried to give up homework for Lent. It was the perfect solution, I reasoned. I was definitely giving something up and, boy, would I ever thank Jesus every time I skipped an assignment. The teacher couldn’t say anything because the Government and government employees can’t step on the rights guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution. I was guaranteed the right to worship God in my own way by the Constitution and Lent was definitely part of my religion. Yes, perfect, I figured. I figured wrong, of course. My first clue should have been that, apparently, nobody else had ever thought of it, but in those days that idea didn’t raise as big a red flag as it does now. That was my first head-on experience with the truth that minors aren’t guaranteed squat by the Constitution, unless it suits some adult’s purpose.
Anyway, picking something to give up is critical. Last year, I gave up the left lane. It made for a good bumper sticker — I GAVE UP THE LEFT LANE FOR JESUS. I would drive only in the right lane — no passing, no lane changes to get ahead, no left lane for any reason. The reality of that denial was that it was a very difficult commitment for me to keep. The main reason was that it seems inappropriate to remember the trials of Jesus in the Wilderness while thinking unkind thoughts at the vehicles in the lane ahead of you that seem determined to go well below the speed limit and YOU CAN’T GO AROUND. I kid you not, one guy I got stuck behind would have made better time if he’d turned off his engine and put up a sail. I may go with that one again this year, though — in the end, it helped me become a little more patient last year. I could use more patience and this way I can both remember Jesus and become a little more like him. That’s an even better deal than the one I was trying to get in the ninth grade.
Kidding aside, the path of Lent starts us along the way that finally bring us to the Friday of Sorrows, Palm Sunday, the Maundy, the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. If we approach along this path with devotion, with piety, with repentance of our sins and seeking atonement, we will be renewed in our joy over our salvation by death and resurrection of Jesus. I’d say, this is a bargain at only forty days.
~ Kurt Hendrix
Originally published in the Wingate UMC newsletter for February 2016.
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