One of the downsides of being retired is that one begins to develop amnesia about when things happen during the year. When my kids were all grown-up and out of school, suddenly I couldn’t remember when the March Break was or when exams began or when graduation was! Now, that I don’t preach every week, I lose track of when the various times of the church year happen.
Thank God there are still some congregations who still want to hear my voice, otherwise I couldn’t tell you that tomorrow is the beginning of the season of Lent.
When I was growing up, in Toronto, our church didn’t celebrate the seasons of the church year, so I never knew what Lent meant anyway. My parents always remembered Lent because it meant that they could legally chastise their kids by having us give something up for Lent. And it was always something we liked! Our first penitence... we had to eat fish. My Mom would buy some fish at the market, come home, slap it into a hot pan and then go off to do a laundry. The fish came out harder and stiffer than the plate it rested on. I kept trying to convince my Mom that tuna was a fish and all we had to do was get it out of the can. No go.
Lent was a time of penitence. Getting into the spirit of the season, I offered to give up school for the five weeks of Lent. That was to be my sacrifice. Another, no go. I never understood why we had to give up our favourite things, like desserts or TV time. What was Lent, anyway?
Jesus is baptized by his cousin, John. God’s voice proclaims Jesus, God’s son. You’d think that this would be a time of celebration. Whenever I did a baptism in the Church, it was followed by certain members of the family suddenly turning into the paparazzi. “Look here, look over here!” was sounded with a background of flashes going off. When retinas returned to normal, then the family went home to have a feast together.
Jesus received neither. The Scripture says that, “At once, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be tested by Satan.” There was no time for celebration. The Spirit of God drove God’s Son out into a destitute place for testing. Nice God, eh? What did Jesus do to suffer such? As a child, I did deserve Lent and its penitence, but what did the Son of God ever do? Why Lent?
Jesus had to face the same types of temptations that we face, every day. If he was to show us a heaven’s way, then he had to know what tempts our lives. Whenever I read the passages of his temptation in the wilderness, I always wonder if I could be as resolute, in the face of Evil. We walk with Jesus into our temptations and, supported by his powerful Spirit, we turn aside the evil we face.
I have begun to think that the original idea of giving something up for Lent was misleading. We always gave up something that really didn’t affect our lives. As soon as Lent was over, it was back to our old ways.
Why not do something for someone else? Give up your time, your talents, your spirit of love for someone who needs to know God’s love. Sacrificing ourselves for someone else requires more from us than giving up desserts or TV time. Secure in Christ, our mission begins, for we know how the Spirit helped us through our trials.
Lent, a time to change lives, beginning with our own. Lent. Give something up for Lent. Share God’s vision with everyone. Give up of yourselves, as Christ did, and may God bless you all.
Doug Pilsworth is a retired United Church minister.