Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Jonah 3:1-4:11, Hebrews 12:1-14, Luke 18:9-14
Ash Wednesday readings:
Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
Every year this is a hot topic among the Sunday School crowd. Many children (and some adults) give up candy or other treats. Lately the social media “fast” has been gaining popularity as people log out for forty days.
Other people, rather than (or in addition to) giving something up, add an activity they find meaningful. Some set aside extra time for prayer or other devotional pursuits. Fans of efficiency might piggyback personal improvements they’ve been wanting to make, such as diet or exercise, onto the season.
Whether we’re subtracting or adding, Lent centers on discipline and sacrifice as a means of spiritual enrichment. However, it’s easy to let the means – skipping a chocolate bar or committing a daily charitable act – become the end. The purpose of Lenten activities is to prepare for Holy Week and Easter, when we re-commit ourselves to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Psalm 51 tells us: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”
Regarding sacrifice and fasting, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew: “whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting […] put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret.”
It’s not so much what we give up, but how we do it. Lent is not goal-oriented; we aren’t meant to be “new and improved” at the end of it. Lent is an opportunity for sacrificial excavation – for clearing space in our lives meant to be re-occupied not by a sense of accomplishment but by the presence of Christ.
What are you giving up for Lent?
It may taste like chocolate or spend like a dollar, but it’s whatever takes up room where Christ could be. Ego. Pride. Self-righteousness. Anger. Fear. Greed. Christ emptied himself unto death for us. Let us sweep the ashes of death from our hearts to make room for the life he brings.
Comfort: Though it seems far, the day of the Lord is near.
Challenge: This Lenten season, make a meaningful sacrifice.
Prayer: Loving God, all that I have and all that I am is yours. Amen.
Discussion: What makes a sacrifice meaningful?
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