Lenting and Relenting

IMG_1433“Remember: You are dust, and to dust you shall return….”

Growing up in the Church of Christ, very little stock was put into Ash Wednesday or Lent when the season rolled around. In fact, I don’t even think I knew what it was until maybe middle school or high school, when a random classmate here and there would walk around school all day once a year with dirt on their forehead. “You’ve got a little something there,” I’d say, thinking I was clever. I wasn’t.

A few years ago, however, I was asked to help plan and lead worship at an Ash Wednesday service hosted by my church’s college ministry that would be open for anyone at my school to attend. By this time, I’d actually gotten a bit more acquainted with this ancient Christian tradition and was excited to take part in this event. It would give me the opportunity to learn more about it, and I was eager to take part in it because I would be introducing this 1,500 year old practice to people for the very first time (most of them also grew up in the Church of Christ).

Now, this past Wednesday night, my housemate, Kyle, and I took part in our third consecutive Ash Wednesday service that we’d both helped plan and lead. It looked radically different this year compared to our first: there was a grand total of 14 of us (compared to the 80+ we had two years ago), we sat at two round tables in a community room instead of in pews of a chapel, and, in typical Church of Christ fashion, we sang only acapella songs. Despite these differences, the situation remained once again that for vast majority of those in attendance, this was their first exposure to anything at all related to Lent or the liturgical calendar. And it was still just as beautiful.

I’m not sure how things are for your faith tradition or your upbringing, but in the Churches of Christ, we hold very dearly to the notion of the resurrected Jesus. What’s been done has been done. Similar to the code of the elves, in the Church of Christ we were taught to treat every day like Easter.

At first glance, that surely sounds rather appealing (and you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to think that). “Treat every day like Easter.”  What if we spent more time acknowledging the risen-ness of our Savior, Jesus, instead of wallowing in our own guilt every waking minute of the day? What if we put more stock into the grace of Christ instead of feeling the weight of our sin? Doesn’t that sound better? Doesn’t that sound like something Jesus would want for us, because we’re more comfortable and more joyful about what he did on the cross?

But then, as the old cliche goes, life happens.

While we certainly do worship a risen savior, that has not kept different elements of the world around us from hitting us hard. Thoroughly. Painfully. Simply put, life just sucks at times. At its best, we’ve kept our neck above the water long enough to catch our breath and even be comfortable with treading; at its worst, we’re drowning in a bottomless sea of saltwater and the feces of its inhabitants, dangerous predators below us, flirting with our bare, vulnerable toes.

We wreck our car. We lose our job. Our landlady threatens an eviction. We return to our old vices that we thought we’d kicked: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pornography, gluttony, anorexia, gambling, lashing out at our loved ones. Life has not gone as we’d planned.

Maybe your life looks something like this. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it did. Maybe it will. As the old proverb/song goes,

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what has been planted…
A time to weep, and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

The season of Lent that is now taking place serves as a reminder that we are still merely mortals. It recalls us to the Fall, where the Lord said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). It brings us back into the parched and barren desert, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years and where Jesus was tested for 40 days.

It is a sobering sign that brings us back to our humanity, to our fragility. We, too, are thirsty. We, too, are weary. We, too, are lost. We, too, are broken.

And that is why we need our Savior. That is why we need someone to redeem us from our sins and to provide a glimmer of hope to the world that tells us that this is not the end.

Through Lent, we can recognize that gap that lies in between us and eternity. We confront our sins and brokenness head on and strive to make ourselves to be more like Jesus. While we know that it is an unattainable goal, we acknowledge the fact that even our best attempts stand as a mere McDonald’s to Jesus’s Whataburger, and that’s okay.

And so we fast, and we pray, and we draw our souls to the ashes of reality and the miracle of the resurrection that has still yet to occur. We remember that though the sorrow lasts for a night, joy will come in the morning. And because we now know sorrow, because we now know pain, because we now know the bitterness of death, we are now in as good of a state as we’ve ever been to truly understand the joy of Easter, the power of the risen Savior.

If you have never observed Lent, or even if you have, I encourage you to learn more about it and, at the very least, give up something for these days leading up to Easter (March 27). Even though this post was two days late, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start your fast. When we planned our first Ash Wednesday service two years ago, Kyle and I created a “rolling fast” that not only provides something new to fast from each day of the week (so that you don’t have to go 40 days without something, unless you still want to), but also offers a challenge of what you can do instead. These challenges are meant to prostrate our hearts and move us closer to Jesus.

Kyle and I asked those at the service to participate in this rolling fast with us, and I would love for you to take part in this, as well. It doesn’t have to be exactly this; in fact, I’m moving a few of the days around and possibly changing some of them for myself. But above all, I believe that fasting for Lent is an incredibly powerful way to bring us to humility and to show us the heart of God, and that’s not something you’re not going to want to miss in the long run. The list is as follows:

A fast from comfort and isolation,
and an opportunity to spend time with someone new or someone you’ve lost acquaintance with

A fast from unnecessary technology,
and a time to connect with God and others

A fast from food,
and a time to confess our need for God

A fast from caffeine and sugar,
and a time to simply rest

A fast from spending money on oneself,
and a time to give good gifts to others

A fast from worry,
and a time to pray for God’s provision

A fast from negative speech,
and a time to speak only that which builds others up

Thank you for reading. Until next time.


2 Replies to “Lenting and Relenting”

  1. Luke,
    I find your writing (the investigation and discussion of the issues you choose interesting). Maybe because you seem earnest in your inquiry; maybe it is that you write from the standpoint of search and discovery.

    I was not really raised in a church, my mom’s faith tradition Catholic, my dad’s Baptist, and not really attending Sunday services unless we were visiting grandparents. We started regularly attending an Episcopal church when I was about 9 and I recall the joy of the fellowship with friends, hated that there were chores associated (a small church where the members mowed, dusted, and emptied the trash) and talking of Jesus.

    We were at the building almost every Saturday working, every Sunday for worship, pot luck, every Wednesday for study and potluck, and on many Friday evenings. I grew in community but I really don’t remember learning much about the truth of Jesus, salvation, or my need of grace. Lent was a tradition of this church. We moved when I was about 13 and we dropped away from that near daily interaction with the church, or any congregation.

    Later in life, at age 37-38, a crisis brought me to the foot of the cross; I was filled with the sense of awe by the grace of God and the magnitude of my sin and guilt. I could not read the scriptures quickly enough, grasp the understandings adequately, or share my novice faith convincingly well. Still, 17 years later, I find that there is an ebb and flow to my enthusiasm, as you said, life can suck.

    Today you are excited about Lent and I relish in your fervor. And, today, I watch while those who have likely participated in Lent traditions jokingly yield to the sacrifices of M&Ms (no these are not physically toddlers), cursing, beer, and television. I wonder do they find the same renewal, the same reckoning that you have found in the new practice of this tradition.

    The humanness of our condition though, and I fear, works to carry us to that complacent sleep in the garden even while our Savior wrestles with the wretchedness of sin’s cost. I pray, in the essence your writing instills in me, that our simple first day celebrations of the cup and the bread could consistently transport us to a sincere rumination of the previous week, and a renewed spirit for the coming week; “Lord forgive us, for we fail to understand.”

    Know that your writing draws me to examine again. I like the “rolling fast” as a way to renew the Lenten reflection with petite, daily, ritual rather than the 40-day endurance event. Maybe this will better match our mortal and brief attention.


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