Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This is season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
This is the invitation to the Ash Wednesday service and to Lent as found in the Book of Common Prayer. Each year I do try to follow this invitation and it is an age-old tradition to “give up” something for Lent as part of self-denial.1 Stereotypically you will hear of folks giving up alcohol or chocolate. Since I do not really consume either they have never been a challenge for me to give up. One year, as a family, we gave up red meat, but I now no longer eat very much red meat either so that is not a challenge, or discipline so…
If you read my blog with any frequency you know that I enjoy reading comics. In fact, I scan through well over 200 a day. This isn’t as much as you might think (it only takes 20-30 minutes a day) but it is a luxury, a pleasure. When I was a child I enjoyed reading comics each night before bed and when I was in college I enjoyed coming home to stacks of comics my father had saved for me. When we moved to England for grad school I realized how much I missed the distraction. And then came the internets. Now I read comics almost exclusively online, sometimes during my lunch hour, but mostly in the evening as a way to unwind at bedtime.
But giving up of something is only part of the invitation. We are also called to read and meditate on God’s holy word. My goal this Lent is to not read comics on a daily basis (Sundays only) and replace that time with the reading and study of scripture. ESV has a very nice “Through the Bible” reading program (many different ones, in fact) and I am already behind. I will endeavor to get caught up and maintain a steady diet of more edifying literature this Lent.
This example may seem frivolous to you, but I can assure you I will notice it far more than giving up sweets. But I also think it illustrates the nature of the discipline we are called to during Lent. It reminds me that we are not called to stop doing something we should not be doing in the first place (deciding to give up cheating on your spouse, gossiping, or robbing don’t qualify as a Lenten discipline, forgoing such vices comes under Christian discipline) rather it is the task of changing our schedule, doing without something that we enjoy and take for granted and focus those energies and thoughts into devotion to God, prayer, study and meditation on God’s word.
Pray for me as I pray for you. And may this Lent be a blessing for us all.
- By the by, Sunday is a feast day, so whatsoever you have abstained of at other times during the week is permissible on Sundays. [↩]