A Word About Lent

It is now Lent season, that time of year when Christians, in an act of self-sacrifice intended to evoke sharing in Christ's sufferings, abstain from certain things.

I have a couple of thoughts on this:

First, if you want to spend a season deeply meditating on Christ's sacrifice, then be serious.  Abstain from sin.  Giving up sugar, coffee, dessert, or whatever is the basic ascetic move of Gnostic spirituality.  That is, that material things are what we need to avoid.  It is not more "spiritual" to give up dessert than to eat it heartily, giving thanks to God.  I question whether God is impressed with the trivial things people "sacrifice" during Lent.  So don't be impressed with your self-control not having that cupcake until you've tried abstaining from gossip, slander, lust, anger, and... oh, self-righteousness.

Second, if you want to spend a season deeply meditating on Christ's sacrifice, then be serious.  Don't pretend that the sorts of things most people "give up" is remotely analogous to what Christ endured for you.  Not drinking coffee versus.... bloody crucifixion and Godforsakenness?  Often people use Lent to feel better about themselves and their abilities in self-control, with the effect that self-estimation becomes central, not Christ-estimation.  Use the contrast between your truly pathetic self-control to feel lesser about yourself, not better.  Humble yourself that Christ may be exalted.

Finally, if you are going to celebrate Lent, would you please show yourself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ by obeying him?  How freely people fling about the "I'm giving up X for Lent...." so that others will be suitably impressed.  Here is a direct command, unambiguous, and clearly not taken very seriously:

"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matt. 6:16-18).

Giving something up so that others will know is the antithesis to Christ's sufferings.  Jesus did nothing for himself.  Everything he did, he did for us.  Sacrificing ourselves for self-congratulation is a denial of Christ's work, not a celebration of it.

Brian Mattson