I used to get frustrated when evangelicals observed Lent. Didn't they know they had freedom in Christ? That they weren't justified by works? That it wasn't Biblical?!?!
(Please excuse my self-righteousness, it continues to die off in tiny little pieces of humility)
I was raised Southern Baptist and spent most of my early adulthood in non-denominational churches. Clearly Protestant with a healthy dose of Evangelical.
Basically I was brought up to be more than a little wary of the Institution in church. It comes with baggage of hundreds of years of church and political history. Some of it rightly placed. Things get weird and distorted when we take the Grace and Freedom out of Christianity to put in its place rigorous pseudo substitutes for spirituality.
I mean, really, I, personally, am one of the most anti-institutional people I know. (Homeschool anyone?) So don’t hear me say that I think you can replace love for Jesus with righteous acts.
So why do I observe Lent now?
1. Unity of the Spirit.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:1-4
I basically live and breath evangelical ministry. It’s my jam. So here is what I know. We struggle hard with building community within out own churches. We struggle even harder with building unity along boundery lines and denominations within the Church (meaning here, the Body of Christ that comprises Every Single Person that has believed in Jesus’s death, buriel, and resurrection.)
I actually believe the entire liturgical calendar has a lot to offer us as a church. The fact is discipline is a part of the Christian life and a choice to be joined together under Jesus? Well, I can’t see that it will actually ever happen if we don’t first discipline ourselves to act together.
While Lent as an observation is extra-biblical not a single component of it is. Repentance? Prayer? Fasting? Yes. We are supposed to be doing those things and we are supposed to be doing them together. (Fun fact: The wide and vast majority of descriptions and demonstrations of fasting in the Bible are corporate) Yeah, it’s just a calendar date, but Hey! It’s a calendar date that’s already there.
It provides us with a ready marked plan to get the Body of Christ on the same page.
Does it have to be then? No.
Which leads me to reason number…
1. Preparation for Celebration.
And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:24-27
If anyone wants to debate that we live in one of the most distracted and material based culture in the history of the world, then you should go Google the research on that and then head back over here.
While I wish we could claim Easter as a purely spiritual observance untainted by our culture (In the church and out of it), it just isn’t. I can’t tell you how many years I haven’t given one thought to our celebration of the Ressurection until the week of.
Hear me: There is grace for that.
But also hear this: We can do better than that. We have set aside time for an entire celebration of the gospel, and what is even crazier? People keep showing up that haven’t even accepted it!
Don’t tell me you haven’t had to put out extra chairs and park halfway down the block just because it was Easter Sunday. Us “church people” know about that. We have probably even rolled our eyes about that. (Ahem.)
But can you imagine what would happen if the entire Church had prepared with repentance, fasting, and prayer to enter into a weekend where people are literally knocking down our doors. What if instead of scrambling and huffing we had first stormed the gates of heaven.
I suspect God would not be resistant to that particular liturgy on behalf of his church as long as we enter in with pure hearts.
Which brings me to my last point.
1. Personal Devotion.
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord[b] from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. 1 Corinthians 15” 46-49
It’s just natural to be pulled away from God. The window to heaven gets fogged up with dirt and grime of this world and our sin.
While we are walking this earth we will have to fight the battle between the natural and spiritual. And more often than not? I lose.
Lent is a really great time to push the reset button. It’s a time to say no to the physical and temporal for a period of time so that we have the freedom to feast on the spiritual and eternal.
While I believe in daily repentance, and freedom in Spirit for sure, I also believe that we occasionally need to enter in to the pure discipline of cleaning out. If we wanted to do it, it wouldn’t have to be a discipline.
I believe there is intrinsic value in not just answering to your own feelings and spiritual whims when it comes down to the nitty-gritty work of fasting, repentance, and prayer. That in established times of seeking we may get to dive head first into blessings we could never have gotten when we only dip our toes into the water.
Will I do it every year? Probably not. Do I think it is necessary to grow in faith? Nope. I believe there is so much grace in choosing to participate and choosing not too. But if you are hungry for the Spiritual and you are aching for the lost and you just need something deeper, Lent is definately something to consider.