“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance …” Matthew 6:16a
Scripture to meditate upon: Matthew 6:16-18; Matthew 4:1-2
One of the guys I race with (board game racing) came in with a couple of pizzas last race night and offered them to us. When asked about toppings he explained “his” was a double cheese and the other was a supreme (ham, sausage, onion, green pepper). Then he said if we didn’t eat it he would probably just throw it away because it was Lent.
Setting aside the obvious question (why buy it in the first place!?) I was reminded of growing up in a Catholic house. Mac and cheese and/or fish every Friday and giving “something” up for 40 days. I never understood how not chewing gum for a month made me more spiritual (still don’t understand) but that was the “usual” sacrifice to the greater glory of god. (Truth was uglier…usually cut down on consumption rather than abstain in total…but then again, that was what the Saturday confession was for anyway, eh!)
Flash forward 45 years. Seems like few people are as actively involved in the ritual of Lent today. Perhaps it’s because I circulate in a different crowd (Shiawassee county had a large population from central European countries and devoutly Catholic), but I suspect it has more to do with the global increase in cynicism. Not that many people visibly participating in the marathon (Gee, only 38 more days to go….).
And yet, we still mark the event on our calendars. Paczki and Marti Gras for the heathen, Ash Wednesday and Lent for the devout, the time leading up to Easter is supposed to provide an opportunity (or excuse) for lifestyle changes, at least for a little while. We “remember” Christ’s sacrifices in the wilderness by giving up something we like for 6 weeks. And so we feel satisfaction if we succeed or guilt (in theory) if we fail. And then we continue on with our lives after dinner on Easter afternoon.
But have you ever REALLY considered the implications of Lent? Christ spent His 40 days in the wilderness, fasting and being tried (tested) by the devil. I don’t think it is fair to envision the Lord giving up a hamburger one day a week or eliminating a petty pleasure (lint pickers) that doesn’t really have any significance and thinking that God the Father would be really impressed. The reality was no bed and breakfast, no Starbucks (Biggby around here) or Mac Gag’s drive throughs, no blueray, DVDs, CDs, Dish Network or Comcast. No soap (I thought about giving up personal hygiene for Lent, but didn’t think those closest — down wind – to me were ready to make that big of a sacrifice) or Fabreeze, Downy, Clorox or any other under the counter goodies (better living through chemistry). No internet. No signal (talk about a blank coverage map). No social network, local area network, traffic network. .
In essence, no anything. Just the created world and an opportunity to draw closer to God without the trappings (distractions) of “life”. Spending a month living with scorpions, sun, sand, and solitude.
How shallow our petty promises of self-denial appear next to what our Lord embraced. Let us then try something harder and closer to the ideal. May I suggest we give up self delusion for Lent and really allow God to conform us to the image of His Son. Without moping around and enjoying the pity party held in our behalf.
Or we can do that hygiene thing……
Phred the Elder
DC3 Fireside Heretic Laureate
(* Disclaimer: 60 Second Sermon guaranteed if you read fast enough)
[Original posting to e-mail 3/1/2010]