Giving Something Up for Lent?
Rev. Rebecca Mihm
What is Lent?
Lent is the 40-day season of the Church that begins on Ash Wednesday (which was on March 2 this year) and ends on Easter (which is on April 17 this year), not including Sundays. Sundays are excluded because they are seen as mini-Easter/Resurrection celebrations.
Lent recalls the humble, serving, and sacrificial journey that Jesus took toward the cross and resurrection. So, during Lent, many Christians seek to honor and follow the way of Christ, and spend time spiritually examining and preparing themselves to observe Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross, and Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Who Observes Lent?
Many Christians observe Lent, but what the observances look like differ from denomination to denomination. Even within a denomination, observances differ from congregation to congregation. And within a congregation, observances differ from member to member with some members not following any practice at all. There are many types of observances during Lent which all try to focus on getting our life of faith, priorities, understandings, and relationships on the right track before God.
Types of Observances
During the season of Lent, people often spend more time in prayer. People reflect on the person of Jesus and how he taught, served, remained steadfast in faithfulness, endured suffering, and died so that we might live.
Lent is a season when we can spend time in self-reflection, contemplating our walk/journey with Christ, our faithfulness to God, and our relationship with others in light of God’s will for our lives.
Self-reflection during the season of Lent often leads to repentance. When we recognize sin in our lives, ways we harm others and ourselves, or unfaithfulness toward God, we stop doing those things and start being and doing what God has called us to be and do.
In light of all that Christ has done for and given to us, we respond by serving and giving to God. This can be in the form of increasing one’s tithes and offerings, serving in the community, or any way a person feels led to respond to God.
Many congregations follow the lectionary. The lectionary is a list of suggested Bible readings for Sundays that include an Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel, and New Testament reading. The readings correlate with the church seasons and holidays—Advent, Christmas, the Baptism of Jesus, Epiphany, Transfiguration, Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter and Pentecost. The Lent lectionary readings begin with Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness (a basis for 40 days of Lent) and follow Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection.
Fasting is probably the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of Lent is brought up. “What are you going to give up?” is what people are heard asking each other. Fasting is the abstaining from something. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church required its members to abstain from eating meat—not including fish—on Fridays and high holy days as a form of penance in honor of the death of Jesus.
Do you ever wonder why you see so many advertisements for McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches just before the season of Lent begins? The sandwich was introduced in 1962 because of the Roman Catholic Church’s requirement of no meat on Fridays. Among other denominations, fasting might look a bit different. If there is no specific requirement not to eat meat on certain days, there may be the observance of giving up something as an act of worship and reverence of God.
Often people will give up sweets for Lent—or caffeine, or a vice like smoking. However, there are many types of fasts. Some people will give up carbs, or electronics, or TV, or Facebook. ome people will think “green” and do a carbon fast in trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Some people will add something to their daily routine, like extra prayer, intensive Bible reading, collecting and donating food, or helping a certain person.
Our Lenten observances, if we choose to observe any, will not earn us grace points with God. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But praise be to Jesus, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, paying the penalty for our sin. We observe Lenten practices as acts of worship toward God, to grow in grace and the knowledge of God, to exercise our devotion, and to give more in our relationship to God. Lenten practices are a way of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
If you decide to take up a Lenten practice this season, I suggest you consider what are your greatest temptations to sin (gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, lying, etc.) and then use that as a guide for fasting. For instance, if you are prone to gluttony, consider a food fast. If you are prone to pride, consider a humble fast. If you are prone to greed, consider giving to a charity. this should help you in being faithful to God and breaking the power that a particular sin has to tempt you.
The act of fasting or adding something helps us to focus and depend on God. When someone gives up eating entirely for a period of time, they realize in a special way that “one does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Fasting reminds us that life is not about our comforts/desires/satisfactions in life. Fasting reminds us that life is about God. And should we fast from food, the hunger pangs remind us to pray and depend on God as Jesus did when he fasted. This general understanding is also true for other kinds of fasts; whenever we feel the effects from the lack of something, we are prompted to pray and depend on God.
Even though there is no obligation for Presbyterians to observe Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter, and even though there is no mandate to observe the practice of fasting, might you consider the benefits of following a spiritual practice to live a life dependent on God? Avoiding those Girl Scout cookies might not be the end of the world!
Rev. Rebecca Mihm
Rebecca has served as our Associate Pastor of Discipleship since October 4, 2021. Prior to serving at FPC Lakeland, she served in various ministry roles in West Virginia, Massachusetts, Southeast Asia, and New York. Rebecca went to Geneva College where she earned a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree. Upon graduation she worked in urban ministry in New York City. Then she worked for US Airways for several years before sensing a call to go to seminary. She graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and spent several years doing ministry in Southeast Asia. Once in Massachusetts, she worked in Christian education, in crisis services, and with high utilizers of the emergency room. Before coming to FPC Lakeland, Rebecca served a congregation as a solo pastor in West Virginia. Rebecca enjoys hanging out with family and friends, walking/hiking, traveling, eating chocolate, and spoiling her fat cat, Oreo.