Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
–Matthew 16:24 (New International Version)
Growing up. I had no idea what Lent was. But by the time I became an adult I had learned that it was a time on the Christian calendar to re-examine our own hearts and make sure we were really walking out our faith… and not just talking about it. In that way, we could be prepared to really celebrate Easter.
It was a few more years before I actually took serious the idea of giving up something for Lent, as a way of “denying ourselves” like the Scripture commands us to do. In some years, I have given up chocolate, desserts, or certain activities. I can’t say that it ever made much of a difference in my life. And I don’t think I’m the only one like that either. The organist at one of my earlier churches regularly gave up watermelon for Lent… not that she could have even found a watermelon in the winter/spring days of Lent. It just didn’t make much of a difference in her life. The idea is supposed to be that we select an extra spiritual practice to add to our daily lives so that we can leave less room for sin in our lives and actually get closer to God… and at the same time, we become healthier spiritually and physically. Thus people have chosen to participate in extra activities like fasting, praying, Bible studies, and even Lenten lunches.
At one of the Lenten lunch this year, the Rev. Beth Creekpaum challenged the Christians gathered together to go beyond just giving up something as a way to improve our own spiritual or physical health. Instead, she shared a Christ-like suggestion that originally came from Pope Francis: Let’s pick up an extra spiritual practice for Lent this year that goes beyond ourselves. It’s ok to fast and pray and such, but let’s add things like taking the money we saved while we fasted for a meal and donate that money to a food pantry. Or perhaps use the time we would have spent watching mindless TV and spend that time visiting someone who’s shut-in. Maybe we could even run an errand for them while we are at it. Or shovel their sidewalk. The possibilities are endless!
Lent has just started and continues into the beginning of April. It’s not too late to select some way of denying ourselves and drawing closer to Christ. But let’s then use that time or money we’ve saved to turn around and bless someone else that Jesus loves.
(Originally appeared as my pastor’s letter in the March 2015 issue of The Flame, the newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church, Clarks Mills, PA)