EVANGELICALS, ASH WEDNESDAY, AND LENT
For many of us, Lent is weird. Mere religion. Not spiritual. Legalism. Why bother? There is no denying that for many people, “Lent” is mere legalism and religion. But there is a compelling Christian and Biblical way to appreciate Lent.
A Christian is one who has trusted Jesus the crucified Messiah to be their Saviour, AND, who now seeks to follow Him as their Lord. We acclaim that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is Lord of all. But is He Lord of time? Well, yes, we would say that Jesus is Lord of time. How do we try to live with Jesus as Lord of time? Part of how we make Jesus Lord of time is by “setting aside” part of our day to read the Bible and to pray. By doing this, we say that Jesus is Lord of our day and while He can claim our whole day, we offer a part of the day to Him as a sign that it all belongs to Him.
Another way we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of time is by keeping the Sabbath. By “giving” Him one day a week, we are acknowledging that the whole week is His. Jesus is to be the Lord of the rhythms of my day and my week. How does Jesus become the Lord of our year? Do we merely allow our culture and state to determine the shape and rhythms of our year? State holidays and “cultural” days (Mother’s Day, etc.) shape our time and our understanding of time.
The Christian Year developed piecemeal over time as Christians tried to affirm Jesus the crucified Messiah as the Lord of our year. This began with individual “days” and seasons until it encompassed the whole year. In the Christian Year, the central truths and acts of the person and work of Jesus are central to shaping the year. Notable Biblical events and people become a part of the Year. Lent is part of the Christian Year. It is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable idea to call Christians to a life of deeper discipleship as we approach the yearly remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But what about this call for “fasting” and denial and soul-searching? Isn’t this mere “works righteousness” and legalism? No question. It can be, but it does not have to be.
We live in a highly hedonistic, materialistic and narcissistic culture. That means we highly, highly value personal pleasure, personal comfort, possessions, things, stuff and we are self-centered. We are consumers in a consumeristic nation, blind to how being a consumer defines and shapes us. There is no question that Jesus says that at times His disciples should fast; we should be generous; we are to be part of a community of disciples; we are to die to self; we are to examine ourselves and repent of our sin and self-centeredness; we are to live for Him.
So the question is, when are you doing this? How are you making this real in your life? Yes, it can be legalistic to have to do it the same time every year. Yes, it can become a mere religious act by which we “put God in our debt” or “pay our dues” so He will leave us alone the rest of the year. Yes, it is better to feel the Holy Spirit convict us of our need. But let’s be real. In a culture like ours, this can practically mean we never fast or soul-search or deny ourselves. If nothing else, having Lent as a season in the year means we are invited to consider our need to put Jesus’s words into practice in our 24/7 lives.