Rev. Mark Buetow
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” - Matthew 6:16
What are you going to give up for Lent? Why do you have ashes on your head? How come you aren’t singing any “alleluias?” The holy season of Lent is upon us and brings with it a whole host of traditions and practices. But there’s Good News in Lent. The Good News is that Lent isn’t about YOU. It’s about Jesus. More specifically, it’s about Jesus going to Jerusalem to be handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged and killed and to rise again. (Luke 18:32-33). For you.
Lent isn’t about you. But it is FOR you. Because Lent is about Jesus. Jesus going to His suffering and death to fulfill the will of the Father to save sinners. Jesus taking your sins and being crushed by them until they kill Him. Jesus shedding His blood for you so that those sins which killed Him won’t kill you eternally. Jesus being pierced with nails as the offering and sacrifice which takes away the sin of the whole world. And then, on Easter, Jesus rising again triumphant over death, having taken care of your sins and leaving them buried in His empty tomb.
Historically, Lent has often morphed into a season that’s more about US and what WE do or give up than it is a season where we are immersed in the suffering and death of Jesus as Good News. Long ago, Lent was the time when those who had really pulled off some whopper sins did acts of penance as part of their discipline to show they should be let back into the church. More recently, fasting (not eating certain things or giving certain things up for a time), almsgiving (giving money to the poor), and works of charity (doing things to help others) have been the works seen as central to the celebration of Lent.
Now it’s true that in Lent, as at any time, there’s repentance for us. We can always shine the light of the Ten Commandments on our lives and see the sins in which we’ve robbed God of His glory and blown off our neighbor as unimportant. To that end, giving something up in order to use that money or time for prayer, and doing things to help others are always noble pursuits. Lent is a good time to remember that its a good thing to curb our selfishness and put others first. But shouldn’t you be doing that anyway? Now do you see? It’s too easy to make Lent into a season about YOU. Here’s YOUR problem and here’s YOUR 40 day plan to get over it. That’s a YOU Lent and doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus.
True repentance isn’t wallowing in the fact that we eat too much chocolate or drink too much soda or don’t read our Bibles enough. True repentance beholds what price sin truly costs. Your sin is so much worse than too many sweets. Your sin is unbelief and self-worship that killed God! But God dies to take away all of that! Now do you see? Lent can only be about Jesus. In hearing of his sufferings, we are reminded what our sins cost. That surely leads us to some sorrow. But that’s not yet repentance and faith. Just getting sad because they beat up on Jesus doesn’t save you. That’s just more of YOU.
No, true repentance is learned when we hear that the suffering and death of Jesus was done to take away our sin. All of it. Every last wicked thought, word and deed. Every last drop of selfishness and self-worship. All of it. Bled away by the Lamb on the cross for you. THAT is what Lent is about: The Savior who rescues you from your sins. Who rescues you from false works that you want to do just for forty days. Who rescues you even from a false repentance which pretends it’s sorry just because it feels bad that Jesus got some nasty boo-boos. Jesus’ death takes care of all of that. Every last bit of it.
So what about fasting, giving things up, and all that? Go for it. But not to make yourself feel bad. Not to make yourself suffer because, you know, Jesus suffered. Not to show others you got some religion for a month or so. You can do them because those practices can be helpful in reminding you that your sinful flesh is no longer ruling the roost. But more than that, the best Lenten practice, discipline and activity is to have more Jesus. More preaching of Jesus, that He died and rose for you. More remembering your Baptism by which you’ve been made a Son of God. More Absolution which releases the devil’s claim on you because your sins are gone. More body and blood of Jesus so that you are filled with the one who lives in and through you and will raise you up on the Last Day.
Lent just means more Jesus. You can never have enough of HIM because you’re always trying to have too much of YOU. Which is why HE is for YOU. A happy and blessed Lent to you in Jesus! Happy and blessed because it ain’t about you but all about Him!