Lent is upon us! The great giving-up-of-stuff starts tomorrow. Lots of chocolate will be foregone. Liters of diet soda, not-so-diet soda, vino, and brewski, will be shelved. Desserts, snacks, and more, will go on the list of things “given up for Lent” only to be rejoined the nanosecond after the first dismissal is given at an Easter service. Exercise, prayer, attendance at worship may be enjoined, only to be set free before the end of Easter Week.
For some people these elements, in part or in whole, may very will be important. They may be a possible “first step” to a greater or much needed change. If that is the case, many blessings be upon you and your undertaking, and even more beyond the closing days of Lent. Substantive long-term change is difficult.
Long has the conversation and debate droned about giving something up, or taking something on, for Lent. Likewise, long has the Church suggested that Lent is a time of renewal, and of self-examination, and of repentance (changing the direction of one’s life) fueled by prayer, fasting, self-denial, and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
A bit of that holy Word leapt out at me today. It came from the last verse of the Gospel appointed for today (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). The Pharisees and Herodians are testing Jesus using a tax scenario. You know the conversation, and the final part of Jesus’ response is, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17).
That is the journey from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection! We are God’s – created in the image and likeness of God … marked as Christ’s own forever. Lent, then, becomes not so much about what we give up, or take on, but about giving ourselves – more fully, more completely, to God.
If that means giving something up, or taking something on, well and good. If it means changing the direction of our lives, that’s fine, too. No doubt some self-examination will be involved, and reading and reflecting on God’s holy Word can help me, and you, … to give to God what is God’s.