by Linda McMillan
Lent is that time of year when we get to makeup a few commandments of our own! By either giving up or taking on, we declare one thing or another to be sin for these six weeks. There’s the old stand-by of chocolate, of course. If you have a piece, then you’ll need to repent. Or those who promise to read the daily office, but once in a while they don’t. It’s a sin… just during Lent. One year I gave up Diet Coke for Lent. Well, for most of Lent. Nobody’s perfect.
Today’s readings offer a warning against being too serious about it, though:
You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.
whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we should give up or take on during Lent. We were never called to give up chocolate or Diet Coke – and I know that’s good news to some of you. But a few weeks ago we were called to the observance of a holy Lent. What does that really mean?
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
–The Book of Common Prayer
Self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. You could twist that up to mean chocolate, or beer, or Facebook. I twisted it up to be about calling people names. That’s what I gave up. And all that is a lot easier than what it really says.
The very first thing is the thing we may be least inclined to do: Self-examination. Last Sunday we thought about the sacrament of knowing and being known by another, but the truth is that many of us don’t even want to know ourselves. It is difficult to take a look at the tapestry of our lives with its hanging threads, mismatched colors, and twisting, crisscrossing lines and claim it as our own. That’s why the next thing is repentance. And, still, giving up chocolate seems easier. But, we know that God’s pile of mercy is bigger than our collected pile of sin. So, we repent. I have never known self-examination or repentance to be a joy, but that is where we start.
We are more than three weeks into Lent now. Most of us have settled into a Lenten routine of whatever we are doing. As the bad boys of monotheism we don’t have to eat special foods, or pray at set times, or wear a certain kind of clothes. Our religion says “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” So, each of us is on our own. Whatever choices you have made for Lent, though, I hope they start with self-examination, acceptance of all the loops and dangling threads, doubts, and unanswered questions of your life. That is where we start.
Linda McMillan lives in Yangzhong, China – Home of the Pufferfish.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Philippians 2:12… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.