We worship Sundays in a converted carpet warehouse. Our pastor preaches most weeks in jeans. We’ve never even owned hymnals or had a formal pulpit. Our services are very simple with very little ritual… save the benediction at the end. We hold loosely to our “traditions” because we don’t want to elevate one way of doing something and get stuck in rut.
I’m not necessarily saying that’s better. It’s just what I know. (And, clearly, what I like.)
As a result, I know very little about the “church calendar” and some of the tradition that it highlights. I’ve never had the ash smudge on my forehead. Or abstained from meat on Fridays. Or given up something for Lent.
In fact, for most of my life, my view of those ideas was fairly jaded. Perhaps it was my experience with so many people who had ashes on their forehead one Wednesday every year but virtually ignored Jesus the other 364 days.
Or perhaps it was my misunderstandings of the traditions. Honestly, giving up diet Coke for 40 days seemed silly to me in light of the extreme and weighty sacrifice that Jesus made on my behalf. We Americans indulge ourselves in excess nearly everyday. Most of us know very little of true sacrifice and service. Many of the people I knew who gave up something for Lent gorged on their now-forbidden treat right before and after their 40 days. How could that in any way help us appreciate the anguish and sacrifice of the God of heaven and earth dying on a cross to pay for the awful sins of every person who has ever lived? Did we think we were impressing Jesus or somehow identifying with Him by depriving ourselves of chocolate for a month and a half?
Most of my experience with such rituals was little more than pomp and circumstance. But, in recent years, I have come to appreciate some of the heart behind some of those traditions.
One thing I have come to value is the way such times help us to remember. We are forgetful creatures. So forgetful. So quickly. God knows that about us. He’s the one who instituted communion as a way of remembering. We do need reminded. Regularly.
I think such traditions can also help us to slow down and reflect. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to get swept into our cultural definitions of a holiday. We get mired in the commercial messages that pound away at our soul. Suddenly it’s April and Easter is about finding the right dress and eating jelly beans and designing the perfect centerpiece for ANOTHER big meal.
And, honestly, that’s OK for Target or Macy’s or whomever. Really. I don’t expect them to make Easter about the sacrificial death and amazing resurrection of my Lord. That’s what we who follow Him need to do. We need to make it about Him… in our homes and in our own hearts.
If slowing down for 40 days of fasting and reflecting before we celebrate Resurrection Sunday will help you to do that, then by all means, please do.
As for this non-denominational girl, my observation of Lent will mostly be in intentional reflecting. I have some books that I will use to help me focus. I have some ideas rolling around in my head that might work for the whole family. If I feel prompted, I might fast in some way during this time. It’s all still a bit of a work in progress for me. (As usual, I’m a little behind schedule. You know, since it starts today and all!)
One thing I do know. I know I want to be a woman who regularly reflects and revels in the Cross and what it means for me. Dorothy Sayers writes that to make the Easter story into something that neither startles, shocks, terrifies, nor excites is “to crucify the Son of God afresh.”
I want to be startled.
How about you?