The Identity of Lent
In college, I lived on a great hall, in a great dorm. We weren’t all friends but the camaraderie from living in that place has formed some of the deepest friendships I have today. One day, as Lent steadily approached, one of the more quiet guys was near our room and somehow the topic of what we were going to do/give up for the season was asked. In one of the few sentences I ever heard him say as he walked by our conversation, he said, “I’m giving up abstinence for Lent.”
In the context of the small Christian college, this was literally the perfect joke, with the perfect timing, from the perfect person to say it. And while I still am amused by his comment, that moment my freshman year has caused me to constantly to be reconsidering Lent and it’s purpose.
The conversation of Lent has always seemed to lend itself to much more of what we will do – in particular what we will give up – leading up to Easter, and the list is as wide as it tends to be shallow. The sacrifice of chocolate, coffee, facebook, fill in the blank has always seemed in my own experience to trivialize the journey to the cross, rather than prepare me for it. “Oh, you gave up coffee? That’s probably exactly what Jesus meant when he said to daily take up your cross” rings in my ears when I think about what I am actually accomplishing through my crabbiness of no caffeine.
There is beauty behind sacrifice – becoming more aware our own personal desires, no matter what they may be, and what drives them and how that impacts our relationship with Christ is something we should be constantly making ourselves aware of, as our desires in our search for God are of the utmost significance, but part of it feels like we have missed the point.
I have tried multiple strategies for lent, from giving up something to trying to add something of significance to my daily journey as we follow the story of Jesus toward his calling. And I think the reason I have always felt left wanting during this time is a) the significance of the cross will always leave us wanting more and surprising us in new ways, no matter how often we hear/tell/live the story and b) this season should be marked by a coming together of all of us who stand at the foot of the cross, the thing that unites us over all else – over worship styles, building preferences, baptism mode, etc – the cross and the resurrection are the driving force behind what we all do, and to me, it feels like our culture of Lent has turned into a individualized event.
During the time when we as the Church should be able to stand together, no matter denomination, creed, & style, and say it is because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that any of this matters, we have turned it into an individual sport (for lack of a better word) of who can do what. Tapping into the culture of “me”, Lent has become much more of about what I can do and how I am preparing than it has the community of faith in Jesus coming together at the one place that matters above all.
The logic and culture of otherness is what we tend to find our identity in through our culture, and this season of Lent should provide us with a renewed opportunity to come together as a community of believers, stripped of those identities that make us different and preparing ourselves for the one thing we all cling to – the cross. To push aside all these things that divide, and say here we are, in desperate need of a Savior, preparing our minds and hearts as the people of a God who loved so much.
So my challenge this year, in the midst of Lent, in the midst of preparing your own heart and mind, is figuring out what can we do as a community to show the way of the cross, to show the way of the resurrection to a world in desperate need of grace that Lent is not one more thing that divides us or shows off our individualism, but is the start of the most uniting day and event we have, Easter.
What do you think? Are you giving up or adding something to your daily routine? What do you think we could do as a community of believers to prepare together?