Today is Ash Wednesday. The group of freshmen eating lunch in my room today discussed what they are giving up for Lent: Dr. Pepper. Coffee. Grey’s Anatomy. Chocolate.
I asked them why we give up things for Lent.
“Because Jesus gave up his life.”
For my non-Christian (or at least, non-Lutheran) readers: the practice of fasting during Lent is an old one. Catholics still practice it to some extent, and the good ol’ Wisconsin Friday Night Fish Fry comes from this religious tradition. Mardi Gras parties are held on the “Fat Tuesday’ before Ash Wednesday, marking a time of gorging ourselves on all the good, rich things we must “give up” during Lent.
|My littles with their ash crosses|
So many people give up caffeine or social media, and often do it for reasons totally divorced from the religious origins of the fasting tradition. The idea that Jesus suffered and died in the most brutal fashion the ancient world could concoct, and that somehow my caffeine headaches equate to his suffering, is laughable.
It’s like one of my student last week who complained about the auditorium being cold during chapel, and that’s why he fell asleep. Somehow in our discussion he said then line, “Well, Jesus wasn’t cold on the cross.”
Bloody, beaten, dehydrated, mocked, suffocating, naked, exhausted, and sweating blood – but no, in Israel’s climate, he probably wasn’t cold.
Lutheran blogger Ruth Meyer has an excellent post about what she calls “Giving up Pietism” for Lent on one of my favorite sites, Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife. She does a much better job than I will explaining the practice of giving things up for Lent. But the main idea of fasting in general – not just during these 40 days – is to spend the time you would have been Tweeting/Snapping/Chugging soda/eating ice cream/Netflix binging in the Word of God and in prayer. Fasting is meant to strengthen one’s faith; it’s not an easy way to drop five pounds preparing for swimsuit season.
One of the things I appreciate about Lent compared to Advent is that it hasn’t been overtly commercialized; Lent is still, for the most part, for Christians. It is a time of reflection, without glorias and alleluias during worship, a time to contemplate our sinful nature in preparation for the joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Even people who do Easter baskets and teach their kids about the Easter bunny (or take horrific photos with the creature) generally know Easter isn’t a random spring holiday.
One of our faculty encouraged his students to try reading through all four Gospels during Lent this year. I am toying with leading a short weekly lunchtime study of some of my favorite Lenten hymns. I will try to share some of them in future posts. I always set out to do something faith-strengthening, and usually I fail, as so many spiritual diet plans do. However, my sinful and flighty nature is made “whiter than snow,” as we read in Psalm 51 during this morning’s chapel. I will leave you with the words to one of my favorite gospel teachings, My Song is Love Unknown:
My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
He came from His blest throne salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know:
But oh my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.
Sometimes they strew His way, and His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for his death they thirst and cry.
They rise and needs will have my dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful He to suff’ring goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.
In life, no house, no home my Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb, but what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.
Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.