Relent? I haven’t even lented the first time.
Having arisen this morning, I was greeted with a couple of Ash Wednesday posts in my feed, and so thought that this might be some kind of guidance. I therefore thought I would just outline a few Presbyterian caveats about why I don’t feel the traditional Lenten allure at all. But please keep in mind that these are Presbyterian caveats, not Presbyterian grumps. All I am doing is explaining why I am more than content to sit this one out.
1. Jesus said that when we fast, we shouldn’t put anything on our faces to make us look all penitential (Matt. 6:16). So when a Christian fast developed back in the day, inaugurated by a service in which people put something on their faces to show themselves penitential, this is the kind of thing that makes me think the devil must still have a functional sense of humor.
2. In the Old Testament, there was one public day out of the year where they were instructed to afflict their souls (Yom Kippur, Lev. 23:27). Everything else about their prescribed calendar was made up of feast days. There was always room, of course, for private disciplines (Num. 30:13), just as there is room for that in the Christian era (Matt. 9:15). But for the life of me I cannot figure out why the advent of the Christ would set us so far back. Deliverance should not be commemorated with long faces. The saints of the new covenant have much greater liberty than the saints of the old covenant, and the saints of the old covenant were free. “But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of” (WCF 20.1).
And the glory of that liberty should feel, taste, and smell like glory, which means gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:46). It does not mean a couple of months with no chocolate.
3. Carl Trueman wrote a good piece the other day on how rootless evangelicals, attracted to this kind of thing, are not actually abandoning their rootlessness, but continuing to display it. This kind of Lenten practice, when done soberly, is an essential part of a community of true discipline. It is not one more food option under the heat lamps of our great ecclesiastical cafeteria. I heartily commend Trueman’s points, which can be read here and here.
4. I don’t observe Lent, the penitential season running up to Easter, but I do observe Advent, the penitential season running up to Christmas. Where’s the consistency in that, Mr. Lenten-foe?
I celebrate Advent and Christmas because it has been successfully highjacked by commercial interests. Not one person in a hundred knows that Advent is supposed to be a penitential season, and not one person in a thousand doesn’t know that you are supposed to “give stuff up” for Lent. There are obviously some things gone wrong with the commercialization of Christmas, but our national frenzy in that direction is much closer to what we should be doing over the birth of a king than what the uber-pious do in the other direction, celebrating as they do the birth of some killjoy homunculus.
So with admirable consistency, I would seriously consider celebrating Lent just as soon as it is possible to get a great Lenten deal on patio furniture at Home Depot. And I would in fact consider it.
We are celebrating Ash Wednesday with a big sausage dinner in honor of Ulrich Zwingli and the 1522 “Affair of the Sausages”.
If President Obama was struck by fear of the Triune God this afternoon and proclaimed a nationwide fast in sackcloth and ashes for the next forty days, would you relent then?
Well, I must say that an annual look at the lint (play on words), in our belly buttons might do us all some good. Of course the abuse of such navel-gazing must be avoided (I agree with much of what yous said), but a fresh apprehension of how icky our sins are to God, our neighbors and to us could go a long way in reminding us of our need to for regular showers of grace. Pen·i·tence: noun; the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong; repentance. Among Protestants, it is a non-sacramental confession. Sorrow… Read more »
You keep using that word…
RFB, I don’t have a dog in this fight, but that would be one of the things that people who argue in favor of redeeming the Lenten season would say it’s one of the things that Lent has to be redeemed FROM.
You had me at “devil must still have a functional sense of humor”.
Just a point of clarification: as a young Catholic, I was instructed that I must wipe away the ashes from my forehead on leaving the church just to avoid that kind of conspicuous piety. I think there is value in the solemn annual reminder of a fact many people shy away from: that we are going to die, and our bodies will return to the dust. For now,
Well, there may not be Lent tent sales at the Home Depot—yet—but I can usually count on rock bottom prices for top shelf seafood at the supermarket this time of year. Check your local Safeway flyer, and you’ll find lobster tails and jumbo shrimp listed in the “Lent Savings” column. I guess this means one of two things; either New Covenant festal fare is already becoming a part of Lenten practice, or else fasting goes down easier at $14/lb. and dunked in garlic butter. May I recommend the Lenten Lobster thermador? It pairs well with Instagrammed ashes and tweets to… Read more »
Just this afternoon I drove past the local Catholic church where the local Hispanic youth were all going to get their ash smudge to proudly wear to school (I’m a public high school teacher) tomorrow. They will ask each other what was given up for Lent and continue on with every other sin that they have indulged in all year.
But we can get great Lenten deals on fish sandwiches for two months. :-\
Could someone help me out. I am not familiar with advent as a penetential season. Would love to understand how and why.
Please explain: What is semi-Pelagian?
As far as I am concerned, I celebrate neither Christmas, Easter nor Lent, since they have no relevance to my Christian faith. Christmas and Easter are celebrations for those of the Catholic faith; if they want to celebrate the birth of their god like that, then that is for them to decide. Since I have been a nonconformist Christian and Trinitarian for over forty-five years, I do not feel the need to celebrate any of these non-Christian festivals. As for Lent, what do I have that I can lend?
Repent? Sounds too arrogant to have pented in the first place. Eat, drink and be merry!
The ceremonial law was a yoke?
I think it was rather a joy, and celebrated by all, no?
@Denn: when you say, “As far as I am concerned, I celebrate neither Christmas, Easter nor Lent, since they have no relevance to my Christian faith,” is that the same in your mind as saying, “…I celebrate neither the birth nor the death and resurrection of Jesus since they have no relevance to my Christian faith”? Or do you simply mean something more like, “I celebrate or observe the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus all year, or during different ‘seasons’ than other Christians (because I’m nonconformist)”? On a similar note, when you say you don’t celebrate Christmas, does that… Read more »
Technically, the fast doesn’t start until after the ashes come off.
Andrew, if President Obama did repent, the party in Heaven would be outstanding! We would have the same kind of party with Obama treated like the forgiven prodigal son and he would be joyously partying with us.
I have never fully observed Lent either (giving things up), but I do think that it could still be a beneficial and relevant practice because NT era Christians still have a tendency to create idols of the heart. I just came across this quote yesterday in my recreational reading and it seems fitting considering the discussion. [A novice] renouces the world; he renounces riches; he renounces the love of woman. And by renunciation he discovers his hidden god. – Antoine de Saint Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars Now I am not advocating renunciation in the same sense as a RC… Read more »
I’m using the fast as a reminder to pray. Our Pastor has recommended dedicating our fast to those who have fallen away–when I desire what I’ve given up, I pray for the people I’ve committed to. Yes, I should do that anyway, but I’m a sinner who needs to be reminded.
Melody: the same thing happened at the Baptist high school I attended years ago. Except it was “rededications to Christ,” not Lent, that the sex, drug & rock-and-rollers flocked to. I guess we throw the Evangelical world out with the holy water, too?
What Jesus said about fasting may be a warning, but it’s not the same as a cross formed with ashes. The ashes are primarily there to remind us of our mortality. We’re not trying to get anyone’s sympathy by looking disfigured or malnourished.
You may be giving the average Joe or Joan too much credit by assuming they know lent means giving something up or that giving something up means to fast. Two relatively large inferential leaps for which I doubt John Q. Public has the legs. Someone once told me the ashes were, “burned up Christmas trees.” It may be up for philosophical debate, but could one purposely display penitence when those around do not know what penitence is?
Well, Jesus tells us that we’d be known for our love, even though the world does not truly know what love is. So the world’s lack of proper grasp of a virtue does not seem to rule out their ability to recognize it when they see the real thing.
Hi Nick, in my church the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from the palm fronds used on the previous year’s Palm Sunday. What we once waved in joy we now accept in sorrow, knowing that our sins crucified our Lord and that, unless repented of, will lead to our eternal death.
Melody, I am sorry that the Hispanic Catholic young people you know are not a shining testament to their faith. Perhaps without Ash Wednesday they might be even worse. Perhaps the Lord who loves them hasn’t finished with them yet.
In a related note to this piece, I’d be curious to know your thoughts on the celebration of Easter beyond “Resurrection Sunday” which for many Christian includes Easter eggs, egg hunts, candy baskets, a large feast, etc. Have you any plans to write on that or do you have a previous piece you could refer me to? Thanks! :)