“Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others” (http://www.umc.org/).
As we contemplate Christ's ultimate sacrifice and victory over sin and death, and the meaning of salvation, we should be moved to acts of self-denial. Lent is so much more than giving something up for 40 days. I once tried giving up coffee for Lent … that did not end well!
I don't recommend avoiding the Lenten season. First, leading worshippers in times of self-reflection that focus on the cross and the tomb is vital. If we avoid such sacred moments with our flock, we could be depriving them of facing the cross all together. It is more than the cross. It is more than the empty tomb. It is about what Jesus has done for the very fabric of existence in the souls of men and women everywhere.
Second, Lent can be an intense refocusing of our Great Commission here on earth. Revisiting the divine in this way can give us eyes to see our neighbours, friends, families and especially enemies. Christ died for everyone. He came for “the whosoever” and he longs for right relations with all, not just a select few.
When we under-emphasize this potentially sacred time in the yearly calendar, we run the risk of under-emphasizing salvation as a whole. We remove some of the mystery of God. I believe we run the risk of stripping down holiness and depriving those who need it most. We ought not to shy away from Lent; we ought to embrace it in the hopes of drawing closer to Christ.
It's Not About Rituals, It's About Holy Relationship
Some might suggest that the practice of Lent is a little too “high church” for The Salvation Army. Some might ask, “What do you consider the entire practice of Lent to be?” I fear that the Army steers too clear of any formal high church practice because of the notion that most constituents would not understand, or because it has no spiritual value. I beg to differ. I'm not saying we should compromise our non-sacramental stance, but I am saying that if we practise and preach self-denial, then we ought to be preaching a Lenten message as well.
A big question is: Are we only preaching self-denial in conjunction with world missions? Are we only preaching self-denial in conjunction with fundraising in our corps? I hope not. With the right direction, local and corps officers can lead all corps members into the vital and precious season of Lent.
How is “self-denial” emphasized in your corps?
Is self-denial important to you?
How do prayer and fasting fit with your observance of Lent?
Are we really emphasizing the transformed life in sacramental living (My life must be Christ's broken bread)? If not, how can we improve this?
Captain Scott Strissel lives in Brainerd, Minnesota. He is an active blogger and contributor for the purpose of encouraging and challenging the Salvation Army world. Read his blog at pastorsponderings.org.