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What's the Big Deal about Lent?

“What are you giving up for Lent?” When I was first introduced to Lent as a child, it sounded like a religious diet plan. People gave up sugar and alcohol; they gave up meat or dessert. I wasn’t sure how it was supposed make me love God more or to reflect any type of #HolisticJustice. Nevertheless, now, when I do research on Lent (which kicks off this year on February 22), I see that it is supposed to be a season of reflection, before Easter, so we can practice justice. When the council of Nicaea introduced Lent (along with the Nicene Creed) in 325 AD, they wanted people to engage in:

  • Prayer- for justice toward God

  • Fasting- for justice toward ourselves

  • Almsgiving- for justice toward our neighbors

Lent kicks off 46 days before Easter. This allows for 6 weeks of fasting (with Sundays off) so we can prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This 40-days of fasting is supposed to remind us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to beginning his public ministry. (Matthew 4, Luke 4).

So, what is the significance of all of this?

Since I see Lent as touching on two of our tenets at The Open Table Collective (Deep and Wide Formation [1800 years] and Holistic Justice), I wanted to sit with its history and reflect on ways I might want to adjust my participation in Lent this year, especially with my eye turned to justice.

Micah 6:8 (NLT)

The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

The New Living Translation uses the phrase “do what is right” instead of “do justice”. When I think about the goals of Lent: justice toward God, justice toward ourselves, and justice toward our neighbors, I find myself asking: what does it mean to do what is right in those relationships? How can I do what is right with mercy and humility?

I no longer think Lent is simply about sacrifice. Because no matter how many brownies, or steaks, or glasses of wine I give up, none of that compares to the sacrifice of Jesus. I cannot give up anything that would allow me to earn Jesus’ sacrifice for me. Instead, I think Lent is an invitation to evaluate myself and my relationship to God, myself, and my neighbors. Lent is an invitation to pray more and allow myself to rest in the loving presence of the Divine. Lent is an invitation to give up habits that might be harmful to my health, whether physical or emotional or both. Lent is an invitation to be generous with my neighbors, to give my time and resources to those who need them.

This year, I want my question to change from: What are you giving up for Lent? To How are you doing right? I want to stop thinking about Lent as a time to sacrifice something I love in an attempt to prove that I love God more, and I want to start thinking about Lent as a time to allow God’s love to permeate through me to others around me.

As we enter into Lent this year, my prayer for our community is that we would pray, fast, and give, but not because we have to, or because we think we are earning favor with God, but because we are grateful for God’s love for us and want to be God’s love in the world.

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