Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Adding Something Up for Lent

Facebook was a-buzz yesterday and today with people's Lenten traditions. Some of them were clever. My favorite in that category came as a result of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement: "You're giving up what for Lent?"  And some were more serious: giving up Facebook or this food or that drink. But as you can tell by now, I haven't given up blogging for Lent.

It's not that I'm against giving anything up for Lent. That is, of course, unless it's done for the wrong reason: self-righteousness. And our Old Adam is a professional when it comes to finding new ways to take God's good blessings and turn them into idols and addictions. Fasting is a good practice. It's a Biblical practice. And it's not exclusively a Lenten practice either. During Lent the fasting is heightened, or I guess you could say, lowered, intensified, and often brought closer to home. Why? Not to glorify ourselves, but to focus ourselves on Christ. But not in the WWJD manner. Nor in the "well, Jesus gave up something so now you have to also in order to show your love for him" kind of way. That's self-righteous rubbish.

In fact historically, the Christian fast during Lent was always a preparation for the Easter feast, the great and joyous festival of the resurrection. There's no better way to silence the joy - even during Lent there is joy - than to focus on ourselves and our giving up this or that and so on. Rather, this time of fasting is intended to be replaced with something else, such as praying the Litany, as President Matthew Harrison has suggested, or reading the Psalms or other parts of Scripture, attending the midweek Lenten services, a Bible study you've never been to before, or some increase of daily devotions and meditation on God's Word.

It may appear that the season of Lent feels like the journey of Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring; we enter the dark caverns of the Mines of Moria without much hope of coming out on the other side to the light of day. But here's the good news about Lent - the reason there is joy even in repentance, why there is hope even in the midst of dust and death - Christ has already gone through his own Lent for you. He has already entered the mines of death on your behalf. He's the greater Gandalf who goes before you with the light of the resurrection, for he is the Light of the World, a light when all others go out. And he leads you through the Lenten abyss of sin and death by his own death, by taking upon himself your sin and by coming out on the other side of the mountain safely. He falls into the depths for you and smites the ruin of hell's Balrog, the devil. And he rises again in radiant white. I've always loved that scene in the Lord of the Rings movie. It may only be a glimpse of the resurrection. But even a glimpse of Christ's glory is enough to know that Lent doesn't end in the tomb where Jesus is buried. That's where your sins go. But you go with Jesus. Out of the mines. Into his resurrected light. And with him for all eternity. To a resurrection promised and sealed in Holy Baptism. To the Lord's Table where he feeds you this Lenten journey with something better than Lembas. Even in Lent, we're reminded that we await the return of the King when we'll be gathered with our Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord around the throne of the Lamb forever.

So, this Lent, instead of giving something up (or in place of whatever you may be fasting from) consider adding something up for Lent.

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