“This Lent needs to be not what you will give up, but what you will live for. Not how you might demonstrate your piety, but how you might live in true obedience to God. Not what you will prove, but what reproves you” (Karoline Lewis in Working Preacher (Feb. 26, 2017).
The history of the season of Lent is fascinating. In 310 AD, Emperor Constantine became a Christian and made it possible – even favorable – for Roman citizens to become Christians. Suddenly the early church was faced many adult baptisms. Understanding that baptism without knowledge of discipleship was counterproductive, the Church set aside 40 days of Bible study, teaching and spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting. During those 40 days, believers were to prepare for their own baptism or encourage and support another’s baptism.
As John D. Witvliet says,
“In terms of doctrine, this [practice] put the emphasis not only on God’s gift of forgiveness (justification), but also on the gift of new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit (sanctification). Lent was a time for new and veteran Christians to live into—to “practice”—the basic moves of the Christian life . . . . Just as athletes need to drill key skills and musicians need to practice scales, so too Christians need to practice self-denial and self-giving love: (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website).
This year we can find severe discord and anxiety everywhere we look. It seems appropriate, I think, to focus on self-giving love, rather than self-denial during Lent. Rather than focusing on what we need to take away from our lives (chocolate, cell phones, anger), perhaps we can think about what we can offer to the world – truth, mercy, sacrificial living, active compassion, our visible presence, sacrificial living, our presence, the witness of a resurrected life.
As Ruth Duck says in Bread for the Journey, “Lent is a season to remember that to follow Christ is to take up our crosses and be servants of all. A season to ask ourselves how we might help to bear the cross. A season to ask ourselves how we are afraid and turn away. A season to ask what we have to offer.”
For more on self-giving love and how Christians can offer it during Lent, watch for Lenten Devotionals on Not What We Will Give up, But What We Will Live For on Wednesdays during the next six weeks.