“I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious anti-neighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.” Walter Brueggemann
The Lenten season is when many Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, self-denial and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to reflect on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection. Christians who observe Lent typically make a commitment to fast, or to give up something of value, or a food such as sweets, chocolate or coffee. Some take on a Lenten discipline like reading the Bible and spending more time in prayer. The point of the Lenten season is to live more sacrificially for 40 days – 46 days with Sundays –to draw nearer to our God in preparation for the Easter celebration.
For many, the Lenten season is a time of deep reflection and meaning. It is a time to refocus on Christ Jesus, and of course, any focus we place on Him, any worship we give to Him is good. Yet the practice of the Lenten season points out a deep need regarding how we traditionally view our relationship with our God. The practices of Lent are relegated only to a season of the year, making this deeper worship and reflection upon our God is a seasonal event and not an everyday relationship with their God. The quote from Brueggemann above highlights this issue when it describes where we live in negative terms, and the new neighborhood of Lent in such positive terms. To use his analogy, shouldn’t we always live in the new neighborhood?
To live in a continual hungering for our God, daily experiencing deep reflection, worship, and sacrificial living is what Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount. A lack of it is that for which Jesus excoriated the religious leaders of His day, along with their empty religiosity and lack of true devotion. Jesus described this daily devotion as the “abiding life” (John 15) and the life united with God (John 17). This daily devotion is seen in the early church in the book of Acts (Acts 2-6). It is highlighted in every book of the New Testament.
Religiosity is how humans try to apprehend, please or appease God. Religiosity assumes a divided life, a life that has sacred duties and obligations as well as secular pursuits. Such divided living is not consistent with the New Covenant. Our God does not desire religiosity, for all that is needed to apprehend, please and appease our God has been done completely for us in Christ Jesus. We need not try to please Him, for He is already fully pleased with us if we are in Christ Jesus. We need not try to apprehend Him, for His Holy Spirit, the fulness of God Himself, is already residing in us; we can get no closer than He is to us right now. We need not appease Him, for full atonement was made for us at the cross of Jesus.
What is left for us to do? This issue is not what to do, but who to be. Our new life in Christ must be expressed not in external acts of sacrifice or deprivation, rather in a deep love and longing for our God. What He is looking for from us is not sacrificial duty, but a longing for Himself born out of a first and greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22). Sincere devotion flows from a love for our God that puts Him ahead of ourselves every day we are alive. If every day is not an expression of this love and devotion to our God, then our Lenten rituals are of little value to us. What our God seeks from us is our love, not duty or religion.
If this sounds like I am opposed to the practices of Lent, I am not. I wish for them to become not a seasonal obligation but a lifelong expression of the deepest love for our Savior. Someone once said of the Lenten season, “Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.” I would offer this instead, “Let everyday be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become in Christ.”
“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor – He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta