Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church, when under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business and an investment of time, preparation, and intense reflection. As the church grew and centuries past, the Lenten season became a mirror of Jesus sacrifice from the fasting in the desert that preceded his public ministry to the “way” he taught of prayer, and living/giving for others.
In practice, particularly in more contemporary times, it has become the ultimate self-improvement routine: from “giving up” chocolate, wine, calories, petty vices – fasting of every description – those inside and outside of regular faith practices use the 40 days before Easter to get back on track with healthy living by denying things that aren’t good for them in the first place. For, like some folks who want to adhere to the idea of Lent without too much cost, there are those who give up something they don’t like anyway: broadcast news comes to mind. And one year in youthful enthusiasm, I gave up raisins one Lent. Which I didn’t like anyway, but gave me something to report to my catechism teacher.
Contrast the insincere ‘giving up’ with the suggestions that come as a kind of counter proposal: we should pledge to ADD something we’ve been lacking. More daily Bible time, more ‘good deeds’ etc., etc.
There are charts and graphs and lists of every description on both sides, all designed to spend 40 days creating a new or better you, family, household, or community. Without too fine a point of it, I think there’s a way to both honor the sacrificial/reflective intent of Lent while building a better everything from the inside out: attend worship.
That’s right: go to church.
Ekklesia is the term that translates as “church.” Not just the universal body of those who believe in Christ as Christians, but as the gathered body. Which means that while you may have been taught and embrace the “I-believe-in-God-but-don’t-have-to-go-to-church” stance, you’ve missed the part that defines the body of Christ as one that gathers.
Deciding to attend worship for the six Sundays of Lent satisfies both the sacrifice model and the self-improvement one. You’re giving up an hour or so of your Sunday morning…when you could be having more coffee, or reading/watching news, or sleeping in, washing the car or the dog, or just indulging yourself in some downtime. Give it up.
You also might be doing a little self-improvement. Even the “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” crowd need some fuel. In worship, you’ll hear some scripture, sing a little, pray a little, and maybe daydream – or maybe get something to think about you haven’t considered in a long time. You might even like it.
Making church-going your Lenten practice might remind you of what you already think you know or introduce you to something you hadn’t considered. It might even become a good habit you’ll want to continue.
One of the most recent dietary trends promises to recalibrate the way you approach food and make a behavioral modification change by the principles of psychology. I’d like to think that coming together in faith once a week resets us, too: and spiritual truth will deliver a beneficial change in what you think and say and do.
The Lenten Season begins on Ash Wednesday, February 26…which means the six Sundays of Lent are March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and April 5 – and if you put in those six, you won’t want to miss the grand celebration of Easter Sunday, April 12!
And who knows – there’s also a chance you might discover that your presence is not only a gift to yourself, but one that benefits the whole body of faith. One Bible writer put it this way: ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…‘