Five Reasons Why I Observe Lent

Today begins the liturgical season of Lent and I am looking forward to gathering with our congregation for our annual Ash Wednesday Bread and Soup Simple Meal and Prayer Service. Earlier this month, I posted on the presbytery Facebook group a question about what other churches did for Ash Wednesday. Many of the responses were similar to our activity and those that responded practiced the imposition of ashes. That is except for one retired minister member of presbytery who said simply this, “Observance of church seasons, and imposition of ashes, is a Roman custom and NOT Reformed…” I was taken aback by this blunt and, in many ways dismissive, comment. Another pastor commented back on this statement with this, “…that is true. Do you think that it should remain true? While Ash Wednesday was never observed in my church growing up, when I have led services as a pastor, I have found that people are profoundly moved by the imposition.” This conversation, while a bit annoying, also has helped me ask the question, “Why do we do what we do and what benefit is there in the “customs” we both have experienced and haven’t yet? So here are my five reasons why I observe the liturgical seasons and Lent in particular:

  1. We have a lot to learn from others. I don’t believe that everything that is considered “Roman” is bad. In fact, I believe that we have often missed out on spiritual opportunities in the name of distancing ourselves from the “Roman Catholic” tradition. Reformed to me means that we are those who seek to bring newness and meaning to the Catholic (read here big “C” Church Universal) traditions. As Reformed/Presbyterian Christians we have done a lot of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” We also do this when we discount what we can learn from the practices of other traditions. As an undergraduate comparative religions major, I found my faith informed by even the most primitive religious traditions. Of course as Reformed believers, we do need to make sure we are thoughtful, prayerful and careful when considering what we include in our spiritual life.
  2. Sometimes we need a jumpstart. One criticism that was lodged about Lent is that we are called every Sunday to repentance and therefore don’t need a special season to do it. I agree, in worship we regularly practice confession and proclaim the Good News of forgiveness in Christ. Frankly, this message is often so tempered and passé that it holds no meaning. Setting apart a time for us to reflect on our need for forgiveness and to engage in repentance can be a helpful way to reorient ourselves in the pattern.
  3. Connecting with tradition can help us connect with Christ. Not every ancient practice has a place in our contemporary setting, but, used correctly, many can help us touch the very heart of our Scriptural ancestors. For example, the practices of Ashes is in fact a Jewish tradition and our inclusion in that practice opens the door for our spiritual imagination to gain a sense of our deep connection with the people of Scripture. While there are traditions that were created in order to subjugate people, others were truly intended to help people appreciate the life, death and resurrection of Christ. I believe that the practice of Lent leads us to fully understand the sacrifice of Christ. This is not intended to repopulate the Cross with Christ, but instead helps us to understand just how wonderful is the grace God has shown in Christ.
  4. We have sanitized Christ. I remember going with my neighbor to the local Catholic Church as a middle school student. Growing up Presbyterian, it wasn’t often I saw Christ on the Cross and each week he was there. I know that the Reformed tradition focuses us on resurrection hope and not on the suffering of Christ. This is one of the gifts I think we bring to the Christian faith. Unfortunately, we sometimes diminish the true meaning of this hope by downplaying the fact that Christ suffered and died for us. Without Good Friday, Easter Sunday is just another day. Lent offers a brief window in our faith year to reflect on the pre-resurrection realities of Christ’s life. It’s not pretty, and may make us feel bad about ourselves, but perhaps that’s part of the point. It may also help to make our weekly ordinary confession and affirmation of forgiveness more meaningful in our lives.
  5. We think we are a lot better than we truly are. In all honesty we have fooled ourselves into thinking we are a lot less sinful than we are. This is especially true in our self-help, psychological culture. We have found ways to pin every problem we have on someone else. The practice of Lent forces us to step away from the excuses and truly reflect on who we are. Thankfully at the end of Lent, we are reminded time and time again that in spite of this, God forgives us.

1 thought on “Five Reasons Why I Observe Lent

  1. Re: #2 – I would be curious if there is any theological argument for daily repentance (versus just Sunday). I heard a story today from someone who was focusing on this in their life. They shared the situation of a burn victim who has to be scraped every day to remove dead cells, in the effort to stimulate growth of new skin cells. It was a bit of a graphic comparison, but this was likened to how it is when we repent daily and are given new life.

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