Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent (a repost from last year)

First, no, I am not Catholic. (I just think that several of the Catholic traditions are wonderful for all Christians.)

LB got me thinking about it again. It was something my youth pastor in high school always encouraged. Plus For the Family's Sake encourages it too.

A time of fasting and focus on God. It's definitely a tradition I want to be in our home as we establish our family and our traditions. In high school my youth pastor always encouraged us to give something up for the 6 weeks before Easter: sweets, TV, video games etc. and set that extra focus on our relationship with God. EDIT: Lent begins today, February 17th which is Ash Wednesday.

I want to share an excerpt from For the Family's Sake from the chapter "A Look at the Everyday All Around Us-All Year Long." I feel that this is an excellent explanation of the Lenten season. (Highlights are from my reading of the book.)

"The early church chose Easter as the best moment of the year for new believers and their families to be baptized and to join the inner circle of believers. The converts came from a variety of backgrounds, many being scarred emotionally from past hard lives. Prosperous merchants (both men and women), scruffy odd jobbed men, slave women who had been used sexually since before puberty, solid Jewish families who already knew about the God of the Scriptures, previously cruel masters needing to learn compassion and humility, people with no self-worth who needed building up, women beautifully dressed but imprisoned as chattel of a Roman husband, contrasting with a runaway slave or two - what a crowd! Nothing like this had ever been seen before.
Early church converts represent the varies throng of humanity that chooses to follow Christ: He promised full forgiveness and assurance of eternal life to each and every one. Typically, they started listening to the Gospel and then believed it was true. They then accepted the Lordship of Christ by a personal choice. They could pray right away, but they still had a lot to learn too. They listened carefully to teaching in the Christian fellowship and asked for baptism, thus burning the bridges behind them. This decision was courageous, and it must have felt especially strange to those who usually expected others (such as slave owners or husband) to chose for them!
Newcomers were startled to have their world turned upside down. From then on, they learned, all the long-held traditions about who was more and less important in society had to be forgotten. Gone. Here there was to be no rift or superiority in any way: Jew or Greek, Roman, Asian, or African. Here there was to be no distinctions between rich or poor, slave or free, educated elite or illiterate "scum." Converts must have been startled and offended when they found out that the lowly were to be respected as much as a Roman centurion in all his fine adornment, as much as a learned rabbi. In this assembly such a one had to listen respectfully to a slave or to a person who shoveled manure. For many the great shock was that women were equal with men. Prejudices and habits of a lifetime and entire cultures had to be broken. And this was only the beginning. People would not have drifted into such a society, for it asked for a great deal of change. They came because they were sure that Christian claims were true (Galatians 3:26-29).
Anyway, the preparation and anticipation for Easter was enormous. By the time the annual festival came, the baptismal candidates had been instructed carefully. They would have shown that they were trying to follow God's ways in their everyday, ordinary lived as they were waiting to be baptized. Those who had been thieves had given up stealing and had a decent job. Men had stopped visiting prostitutes, some of them had married. They and others were learning how to have homes of order and love, where each person, whatever the age or gender was respected. A few older women helped instruct others in this practical, every day aspect of learning to live a Christian life.
The whole church waited for the special annual rejoicing of Easter. Poorer families would have saved up so that a special meal could be enjoyed on the big day. Cleanliness really goes with godliness: Houses and forecourt would be swept in readiness for the special celebration.
But they were taught that visible cleanup was not enough. When we celebrate something very wonderful, we prepare our inner selves too. Of course, in that congregation, some were just stopping the most blatant sins. They struggled to stop cheating with their weights in the market or abusing their wives and so on. Others seemed picture perfect on the outside, but their Lord had told them not to look merely on the outside. God looks on the heart.
There is always internal house-cleaning for people to do. And they were going to take their first Communion after their baptism, which always needs careful inner preparation. Thus it becomes the custom that the days leading up to Easter were special for personal reflection. "Is my inner self reflecting Christ's life?" They and we also must ask ourselves, "When His light shines into my heart and my everyday life, what does it show up that needs changing?"
This type of questioning and subsequent insight clear the way for goodness to be chosen and grow in our everyday lives, with God's help. This is the best preparation for celebrating our response to God's love to us in Jesus! Of course, we listen, read, understand and pray to have God's help every single day of the year. But busy routines can easily result in habitual complacency. We can get stuck along the way and stop making progress. It is good to set aside a special thoughtful season regularly to "take stock" and respond.
Christians came to call this special preparation time Lent. This season emphasizes taking Christ's Word right into our everyday lives and choosing to obey even the hard requirements.
Of course, not all of us now who are Christians are in traditions that still use the beautiful liturgies for Lent. But we should pause to consider the ideas behind such practice. Such a response to Christ's life, death and resurrection, and offer of salvation to each of us personally is more appropriate than getting lost in wrapping paper or chocolates. We are in danger of even losing even the concept of a truly Christian celebration. The price of God, for Jesus, was high. Dare we be trivial or materialistic in our memorial times? It is better not to sing hymns of thanks and praise that to do so glibly.
Old wisdom decreed that there should be extra simplicity in the weeks before these two (Easter & Christmas) times of remembrance for Christians. Such wisdom is practical. Chosen simplicity for a season can mean more time for reflection , prayer and reading together or alone. Simplicity provides a contrast with the celebration feast! For, yes, we are creatures of body as well as spirit, it is good to celebrate our Christian belief at home and in our communities."
( pg. 247-250)

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