How to Lent and Why: Questions for an Anglican Priest
Lent is about to kick us in the seats of our pants soon, when it darkens our foreheads, and then takes away our chocolates. Not to mention causing us to face our privilege by helping others and then making us read the Church Fathers in the original Latin or Greek. (I made that last part up).
So what is this Lent thing all about? I’ve compiled some of the questions people have asked me, along with some answers as I would give them in the pastor’s study:
Lent is about repentance. Why should I repent again and again when God has already totally forgiven my sins in Christ?
We are sinners, even after we are baptized, saved, forgiven, and healed. Yes, we continue to be a part of this fallen world, and to make our contributions to it. Forgiveness from God – total forgiveness – doesn’t mean that we are already perfected. He forgives us because he knows will need it continually in this fallen world. And if you don’t think believing Christians sin, then you must be reading fake news.
The model for all prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, itself teaches us to pray for forgiveness every day, and the biblical epistles are full of admonitions to continually repent. The fact that some of us are told not to keep confessing and repenting tells us more about modern Christianity than it does about biblical Christianity.
So Lent is a yearly journey which reminds us, humbles us, and takes us back to the foot of the cross. It doesn’t do this to condemn us. We repent to be free, to be honest with God, to be enabled to accept his forgiveness one more time. We can’t repent unless we are already assured of his love and grace.
Lent is not about reminding God that he should forgive us. Its about reminding us that we worship a God who loved us enough to take away our sins, and who always will.
Why do we practice Lenten disciplines? Isn’t that “Works Righteousness”?
Jesus himself said “It is finished!” as he died on the cross. Yes, the ultimate sacrifice-ending sacrifice has been made. Its the Good News: God is not demanding a sacrifice from you.
And yet every Lent we take up disciplines. We show our repentance by receiving the ashes, by our prayers, and by our desire to seek reconciliation with others. We also give things up, fast, and take up spiritual disciplines.
Like St. Paul, we discipline our bodies. But we don’t take on these disciplines to prove that we are righteous people. They aren’t a tool for healing really, but for diagnosis.
The medicine of the Gospel is God’s grace. The Law is the diagnostic tool.
So in Lent we take up these fasts and disciplines to be better able to listen to the Holy Spirit. To see ourselves as we are. To know our own weaknesses and to observe our temptations. As we do so, we pray for God to reveal his grace to us in a deeper way.
Unless we see our symptoms and sickness, we don’t seek a cure. The Lenten disciplines don’t take too long to reveal something to us, and when they do we are supposed to rest in the knowledge of God’s love and grace.
Why and how should I fast?
Fasting and abstinence are two different things. Most churches today see fasting as eating only one small meal in a day (this is for older teens and adults). Abstaining is usually giving up meat or something else. It is traditional to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to practice abstinence on Fridays. Remember, however, that the fast is not the focus of Lent. The future feast is the focus, and fasting is a way to prepare for that feast.
Why fast? It is biblical, it has been recommended by our mothers and fathers in faith, and it is accessible to everyone at some level. You don’t have to be a monk to abstain or fast. It is also experiential. You have to practice it to really understand it. So try it out this year, if you have not before and reflect on it as you practice it.
What should I give up?
Give up something reasonable. I don’t mean easy. I mean reasonable.
Give up something that you will notice. You will want it, but it won’t be there. Something you will probably regret giving up about two weeks in.
Give up something that you don’t have to give up. Lent is not a diet.
There are also things that are bad for us even in small quantities, like tobacco. Giving something up for Lent is giving up something that is normally good for you.
So feel free to give up cake or beer or candy or coffee because, in moderation, these aren’t usually bad for someone. Give up television watching or a favorite social media app (Don’t give up AnglicanPastor.com though). It is often recommended that you not give up something you “were going to give up anyway.”
Other than than, just pick something and stick with it. Don’t forget to reflect and pray about the experience.
And don’t forget to also “give something away.” Giving away is the twin of “giving something up.” Give away your time, money, and/or resources to serve others sacrificially.
Is it Catholic?
Yes. Lent is a catholic tradition, and catholic is a good thing for a tradition to be. Unfortunately many people associate the word ‘catholic’ with medieval superstitions. Lets clear that up right now. Catholic is the apostolic, universal, holy Church on earth and for something to be catholic is for it to be ancient, universal, and holy. Yes, there is a Roman Catholic Church, but no, you don’t have to be a Roman Catholic to be a catholic.
So what this all means is that Lent is an ancient, universal Christian season whose disciplines have been practiced across various Christian traditions. There is no reason that any believer from any tradition should feel they shouldn’t practice it (And there is no reason to be afraid of the word ‘catholic’ either).
What if I mess up and don’t keep my disciplines?
Then you are a normal human being and you’ve finally understood what Lent is all about. Jesus still loves you.
More about Lent…
- What is Ash Wednesday? by Canon Greg Goebel
- My Lenten Experience be Canon Greg Goebel
- Lenten Disciplines Series by Fr. Lee Nelson: prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.
- Ash Wednesday: Catholic or Reformed? by Fr. Lee Nelson
- An Intentional Lent by Fr. Porter Taylor
- 10 Ways to Walk Through Lent by Canon Winfield Bevins
- A Long Obedience in a Lenten Direction by Fr. Jack King
- Waiting Songs for Children in Lent by Mother Tish Harrison Warren
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