Growing up in a Catholic home, Lent was a four letter word in deed to me. Even in a house that really didn’t go all out, the legalistic rules imposed during Lent were just plain annoying as a kid. It might sound tight, but having to give up pepperoni on your pizza at my basketball end of year party, because it was held on a Friday, was just aggravating.
Now that I am an adult, I now know that the rules go a lot further than no meat on Friday, and for far deeper reasons than self-discipline. The pressure to adhere to the rules, and to succeed at abstaining what you gave up for a full forty days is just the tip. If done wrong, Lent is one more exercise in a works based salvation where a person is constantly haunted by how bad they fail or justified by how well they do. Although we could continue to discuss how harmful anything related to a works based righteousness is, I would like to explore if there is any benefit of Lent for those who understand justification by grace alone.
To begin with, let’s look at an answer given by the LCMS (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) concerning Lent:
Q: Do Lutherans have to give up something for Lent as some other denominations require?
A: From the perspective of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, “giving something up for Lent” is entirely a matter of Christian freedom. It would be wrong, from our perspective, for the church to make some sort of “law” requiring its members to “give something up for Lent,” since the Scriptures themselves do not require this. If, on the other hand, a Christian wants to give something up for Lent as a way of remembering and personalizing the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for our sins, then that Christian is certainly free to do so—as long as he or she does not “judge” or “look down on” other Christians who do not choose to do this.
I think the key line in this statement points to the matter of Christian freedom. It is reasonable to expect that once a person is freed by the gospel of grace, that that person will drop something like Lent to the floor like a bad (and poorly kept) habit. But is there room in the Christians life for something like Lent to be a positive experience?
There is much beauty in following the liturgical calendar. Throughout the year, the Scripture readings focus on the birth of Christ, the life of Christ, his death and resurrection, and his second coming. To some this is simply seen in Christmas and Easter. But within the liturgical calendar, there is also Pentecost, Advent, and yes, Lent. These are all merely ways for the church to focus on specific periods of Jesus’ life and the salvation narrative.
So when Lent comes around, it is another chance to focus on Christ. There are many ways to focus on anything in your life. Focusing on your health for example, is a person’s choice to eat better or exercise to see a desired outcome. Lent gives the Christian the freedom to focus on Christ while building up to the upcoming celebration of his death and resurrection we celebrate as Easter. If a Christian chooses to give something up or add something spiritually edifying to their life during this time, it can be a great time of joy. Joy that is, if they remember they are not forced to, nor are gaining their salvation, nor are they damned if they fail.
Personally, I have pretty much given up on the giving up technique. I just fail anyway. What I do enjoy is trying to add something to my daily life for forty days that will bring my thoughts and attention more on Christ than I normally would. That could mean many things such as prayer time, a Bible reading plan, serving your neighbor, or attending weekday Lenten services. Or not. Maybe you’re good with your focus and spiritual practices. That’s fine to. You are free. For me, I found this cool reading plan for the Book of Concord. It seems a little big for me. I may miss many days. I may give up halfway through. But when you are free, none of it will be wasted. When we do these things out of Christian freedom, the turbulence of the struggle to perform tasks goes away.
You can remove your seatbelts. You are free to Lent around the cabin as you will. Have a great Lent and a Happy Easter everyone!