Lent is an interesting time for me. It tends to either be a regimented denial of my own cravings, where I can't wait for it to be over, and resolve into an 'Easter basket' of indulgence or, it is simply a liturgical season, like any other, where I pay homage to it's intent, yet go about my life in all of its regular patterns. This year is different.
As a pastor of a church out of the 'free church' tradition - a church formed out of the protestant reformation, intentionally disconnected from government - liturgical seasons take a back seat to 'the preaching of the Word'. Yet, the liturgical seasons to some degree still inform our practice. This is obvious when we talk about Christmas and Easter, but not so much Advent and Lent, and in my tradition, definitely not Pentecost. (Which, by the way, is too bad!) Nevertheless, Lent now has a hold on me, unlike ever before. Why is this happening? Maybe because I'm getting older; maybe because I'm paying more attention to my own spiritual formation; or, maybe because I continue to examine what exactly 'love' is in my life; maybe all of the above. Either way, Lent has got me thinking. Not just about self-denial or about my own failures (read 'sin'), but about love.
My chosen text for this Sunday (March 18, 2012) is Romans 13:8-14.
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
In light of this singular text - not a normal text for Lent - I find a pretext for Lent being theologically rooted in love. We enter into self-denial, not driven by unwarranted or coerced obedience, but driven by love. To be driven by love is not an overbearing, burdensome denial, but a desire to honor and return the love from lover to beloved. Theologians from Walter Kasper to Stanley Grenz understand the Holy Spirit as the absolute, personal and reciprocal love between God the Father and God the Son.
In the season of Lent, our self-denial is driven by the desire to participate in the love between The Father and The Son. We enter into self-denial, driven not by some sort of ascetic principle, but out of the desire to please "the one who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). In this fashion, our self-denial helps us understand the nature of love and God's desire to enter into a love relationship with us. Good Friday-Easter then becomes the great act of love and Pentecost becomes the eruption of love into our world.
Don't allow Lent to pass you by this year. Learn more about love. Learn more about God. God loves us and desires to draw all of creation into the love relation that marks God's very being. Don't give up chocolate, sugar, coffee or fill-in-the-blank consumerist addiction for 40 days just because the priest/pastor/minister told you to do that action. Do it as an act of love for the God that loved you so much that He gave us his Son and Spirit…forever.