My mother always used to stop eating sweets, chocolate, and cake during Lent. It was something of a badge of pride for her that she did it every year. It also meant that she lost any excess pounds that she had put on over Christmas and ensured that she had no guilt about eating those things for the rest of the year.
Although fasting has traditionally been part of the two penitential periods in the church calendar, (we don’t see much of it in Advent these days!) it comes as part of a bigger package. The two periods precede the great Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter and are about preparing ourselves to discover what those festivals mean and to examine ourselves as Christians. Giving things up for the sake of a few pounds so that we can feel good about ourselves doesn’t really enter into it.
I am very conscious that we entered lockdown during Lent last year and have been under some form of restrictions since then. This has meant a form of denial being imposed upon us. Worship in our church buildings has been, at best, severely restricted since then and in some cases hasn’t happened at all. However well we might have prepared for last Easter we didn’t get the chance to meet together to proclaim that Christ is Risen or to join in the great Easter hymns.
But we thought the storm would pass. Hopefully, we’d be able to celebrate Harvest Festival and, if not, certainly Christmas. For over 20 years, as a family, we’ve attended Spring Harvest around Easter. When it was cancelled in 2020, we accepted it as the way things were but never imagined it would be cancelled again in 2021. And although we’ve now got vaccines, we’re still waiting to see what effect they might have and when it will be safe to begin lifting restrictions again without causing another spread of the virus.
For people unable to see family and friends, for those who have either lost employment or feel what was a secure job is now in jeopardy, this sense of waiting for the unknown has become increasingly difficult and it is no wonder that we are told of the great increase in mental health issues in the population.
In recent years, many churches have followed a different Lent discipline by using a Lent Calendar to collect money for a worthy cause or committing themselves to do a good deed each day. Some years ago, I was doing the former and suddenly found it very expensive when one day I was asked to donate 50p for every bible I owned. I had never thought it possible to have too many bibles until then! It turns things around and stops us focussing on ourselves and possibly what we can give up to improve our lives, and starts putting other people first.
At Easter, we will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus who gave up his life for us all. That will happen whether we are able to meet in person or not and we have the security of knowing the truth of that in our lives. Let’s commit ourselves to following him by ensuring that our communities know that God is present and active by the way we live our lives. Let’s use Lent to show God’s love to the world. I leave it up to you as to exactly how you do it and if you benefit as well, it’s a win on both sides of the equation.
With all good wishes,