The other day as I sat eating lunch with a couple of coworkers, the subject of Lent came up. Two of us were planning to attend Ash Wednesday services and I remarked that in all my years growing up in the church that I had never attended such a service.
The other day as I sat eating lunch with a couple of co-workers, the subject of Lent came up. Two of us were planning to attend Ash Wednesday services and I remarked that in all my years growing up in the church that I had never attended such a service.
“We don’t do stuff like that in my tradition,” I said. In fact, I told my coworkers, the only thing I remember observing while growing up was Good Friday and Easter. On Easter we traditionally ate ham and I always thought that it was a funny thing to eat since Jesus was Jewish.
“As a child I thought that Jesus died so that we could eat ham,” I said and we laughed at my irreverent comment. It was a comment I couldn’t help making in light of how many Protestants have sought to separate themselves so much from Catholicism that they have thrown out the symbolism that helps attach meaning to the tradition of Lent.
Last year, after studying some of the writings of the early church fathers and mothers, I began an exploration of Lenten traditions. I found the different responses to the season among various Christian churches fascinating.
Some traditions fast and have special foods that they reserve for that time of year to help them observe strict dietary restrictions. Some Christians give up certain things like soda, chocolate, cigarettes, etc. so that they will know what sacrifice feels like and, when they observe the tradition correctly, give the money they would have spent on the item to the poor. Others give up activities in order to spend that time in prayer. Whatever the practice, the goal is to identify with the sufferings of Christ.
A friend of mine once asked why there was so much candy on Easter. “Is it because of all the fasting?” she asked.
“Probably,” I responded. I had never thought of it before. To Christians, Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, which is another reason why there is so much festive food.
Does there seem to be an imbalance between celebrating 40 days of Lent and only one day of Easter? It may seem that way on the surface, but the reason we celebrate 40 days is because that number symbolizes the days Jesus was being tempted in the desert. The one day of Easter acknowledges the Resurrection and celebrates eternal life through Christ. Because of Christ’s resurrection we will celebrate Easter for ages to come.
One of the professors in my masters program observed that without the Resurrection, Christ’s death would not have meant much. Perhaps that is another irreverent comment for some, but it is true. Without the Resurrection, the death of Jesus would have been just another crucifixion. There would be no salvation, no conquering of death, no possibility of a close relationship with God.
With that thought, I invite you to celebrate Lent, rather than just observe it, because, as the Apostle Paul said, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” While you’re doing that, look forward to Easter and then celebrate Christ’s resurrection all year long.
Alicia Gossman-Steeves writes for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in La Junta, Colo.