Ok, the topic is hardly original writing for Ash Wednesday. But I’ve been thinking on it for a while.
I don’t know where the tradition started. Maybe it was an “homage” to Christ’s 40 days in the Wilderness. Maybe it was just an arbitrary decision made by the Nicean council. I don’t know – and frankly I don’t care.
Wait a second… “I don’t care“?
Yep. Doesn’t matter to me where or why it began.
The Spirit of it is what matters.
It’s a build up to the celebration of the most significant event of the Christian Year, a time when Jesus went out and his chocolate eggs all over Israel for the children to find…
Ah yes: The time when Jesus commissioned a small rabbit to go… nope.
Oh yes, I remember.
The Son of God handed Himself over to be executed in our place to allow us to have relationship with God once more.
No eggs. No bunnies. A brutal and savage execution of an innocent man.
Aslan goes to the Stone Table. Jesus goes to the Cross. Narnia is released from Winter and death. Our Hearts are freed from captivity, death and torment.
40 days build-up to the biggest Victory of Christianity.
So we have pancakes. We give up sugar, or chocolate, or whatever we give up.
But Lent should be something in our heart.
So what if I give up chocolate but keep fighting with my neighbour? It’s returning to the letter of the event, not the Spirit of it.
Jesus was all about the Spirit of the Law. He declared He hadn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it. His mission was to reconcile man and God, and the Law could only bring Death. He needed something radical – perfection in God’s sight, and sacrifice in our stead.
So that’s what He did.
I read a book recently called “The Year of Living Biblically”. It’s an exceptional book as the author actually did try to fulfil the letter of the Law as set out in the Bible. It’s supposed – I think – to be satirical, but it shows the futility of even trying to be righteous by following the letter of the law. He didn’t shave for a year. Wore only natural cloth with no mixed fibres and ate only what the Bible (Old Testament) said was acceptable. The result is a hilarious book which completely missed the point Jesus tried to make, but at the same time emphasised the point the author had missed completely.
I gave up trying to follow the Letter of the law years ago. Long before any teacher told me the difference between letter and spirit. It was a relief when I was finally taught that obeying the spirit of the law is what gives relationship.
Yes, I still try not to shoot my neighbour for shouting at my dogs. But I’ve learned to appreciate he may be going through a rough time like I am, and so if they make a noise I try (mostly) to bring them in or shut their barking up so they don’t disturb him. (But I’ve not met him face-to-face and have no immediate desire to). For now that is as far as my carnal nature will allow my Spirit to work.
I’m a work in progress.
My Grandfather was 80 when he died, having been a Christian for 64 (ish) years. Just a week or two before he went Home he called me and we spoke for over an hour about God, and the changes he was experiencing as he walked the path Jesus set before him. It was an amazing conversation with my Brother in the Faith, talking as equals not as Grandfather to Grandson, but one Brother in Christ to another, encouraging each other and learning from one another. The Spirit led our conversation – the last one I would have with him – and it is one of my most precious memories.
We spoke about “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge”. That’s the difference. Grandad didn’t care about intellectual knowledge. He was all about relationship. His Love for Jesus beamed out of him (as long as he was smiling due to an “unfortunate” cast of features) and he was as at home talking to children as he was talking to pensioners. He identified with them where they were, never tried to tell them a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” to get right with God, simply “Look to Jesus and let Him make you right”
So a short thought for the beginning of Lent.
Over the next 40 days, forget quitting sugar or chocolate. Quit relying on your own effort instead, and let Jesus carry the load. Quit trying to be seen to be perfect – you aren’t.
It’s my challenge to myself.