A Friendly Reminder in Light of the Upcoming Lenten Season

This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It’s interesting to me that most low-church Protestants find their way into the liturgical calendar by way of Lent. I tend to think that maybe it says something about how, in our society’s glut of superabundance, we feel a subconscious need for renunciation, and so we turn to the resources of the Church. But I want to write about something else related to Lent, and it is this.

Lent is forty days, right? Right. Well, there are actually forty-six days in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The forty fast days of Lent don’t include the six Sundays therein. each of those Sundays is a feast day. If this is your experience with Lent, you’re thinking well, duh. But in my experience, most of us low-church converts don’t realize it to begin with. When Jess and I were first told several years ago that we didn’t have to fast on Sundays, Jess was scandalized. “It’s cheating! They’re changing the rules on us!” For me it was like an epiphany. Everything clicked into place. (I think I was in a Christian spirituality class at the time that leaned heavily on the theology of asceticism.) Here’s why.

Every Sunday for the entire year is a mini Easter, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. As such, it is also a day on which we Christians look forward to our own resurrection at the Second Coming. Lent, on the other hand, is a period of waiting and penitence: we wait for Christ, who, in between his ascension and his return, is physically absent from the church, and we are penitent for our sins, clinging to Christ’s atoning work in his death on the cross. Fasting physically reinforces these more abstract realities to us. But even in gloomy Lent, Good Friday—death—cannot be complete without Easter Sunday—resurrection.

So here is my reminder. If in Lent, you either decide to “go the extra mile” by fasting on Sundays, or you feel guilty, so you don’t break your fast on Sundays: you are denying the resurrection. Both Christ’s and your own. You have taken the purpose of fasting—union with Christ—and made it about your own supposed holiness. You have missed the point of fasting, you have missed the point of asceticism, and you have missed the point of Easter.

Have a nice day!


3 comments so far

  1. Tim Cairns on

    I’ve never “done” “kept” (or whatever you might say) should I?

  2. Tim Cairns on

    what I mean to say is that I have always found “lent” evangelical style to be no more than a cool fad. I find giving up chocolate or coffee or whatever to be a bit self serving rather than anything to do with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

    So next week the conversation goes like this “what are you giving up?”

    “Oh I’m giving up chocolate, I love chocolate and thats really hard at Easter and all. What about you?”

    “Oh I am giving up coffee, and I’m a 6 cup a day man, its tough”

    In our world today it just feels self serving rather than real denial. When your living hand to mouth I think it has much more of an impact. So I have never “done” or “kept” lent – maybe I will this year

    Oh go on I’m giving up potato chips what about you?

  3. derekryanbrown on

    In principle I agree with you, Jeff.

    Just for fun, though, what do you make of these questions:

    1. What are we to make of the virtual absence of the notion of fasting within the NT except for the gospels? (Yes, in some way I am hinting at your suggested notion of quasi-fasting as “denying” the resurrection.)

    2. When did fasting in the Christian tradition become anything other than utterly denying your body of all foods?

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