In the higher latitudes we enjoy the regular cycle of seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. We’re now heading into Autumn and it’s that mellow time for harvesting of fruits: apples and pears, grapes for eating and for making wine. Deciduous trees flaunt their golden leaves in cool, crisp air and the soft river mist is beginning to appear each morning.
For some Christians it is also the season of Lent, the time when we remember the 40 days leading up to Good Friday. It has long been the custom for Christians to ‘do Lent’ in some way. Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday marks the beginning of this season, when folk would be ‘shriven’ (do penance) and households would eat up all the rich foods like cream and eggs and butter before the Lenten fast.
While most people these days do not necessarily fast, we often choose to give up something for Lent. Chocolate, wine, coffee, or internet and social media are common things to avoid during this season. Lent was intended to be a kind of self-discipline, to remember Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer, and to be mindful of our need for repentance. Lent is supposed to be good for the soul.
Lent can be good for an individual’s body – you might even lose some weight! – but does it necessarily benefit the spirit, or anyone else? Are there less obvious things we might forego or challenge, which might be of more benefit to spiritual growth and to other people; things that are less self-focussed? Churches today emphasise a personal faith – repentance, forgiveness, acceptance of Jesus’ dying for me – but is it really just a matter of being mindful of oneself? Is that all that Jesus did?
Perhaps some of our attitudes or habits might bear closer scrutiny.
Perhaps we could use Lent to challenge some of these and focus less on ourselves and more on Jesus and the community around us.
Perhaps we could spend time sharing the bible with a new Christian, helping them in their faith. We might exercise more discipline in prayer and establish a daily quiet time; or regularly put aside our needs for someone else. There used to be a rather flip saying, ‘don’t give up for Lent, take up instead.’
One attitude that might bear scrutiny is our sense of entitlement.
‘What?’ you say, ‘that doesn’t apply to me. I’m a Christian.’ Hhmm... maybe so...
The media have buzzed for months about celebrities and politicians and movie moguls with their abuse of power, particularly regarding women. Movie directors have the money and the right to hire-and-fire and it is made clear to wannabe stars that these (usually) men are entitled to deal with them as they please.
‘You wanna role in my show, you gimme whatever favours I ask for. Otherwise forget it.’
Much is made of the male sense of entitlement, that women exist only to obey and please men. But is that the whole story? Does this sense apply only to men? I don’t think so. If we’re honest, doesn’t everyone feel a sense of entitlement at times?
Perhaps it goes like this...
I pay taxes and I’m entitled to ride my bike or drive on the road whenever I like. If there’s an accident I’m entitled to insurance, or an ambulance. Or free hospital care. Or to a refund if my new appliance breaks. I’m entitled to holidays at various times of the year. If I upset someone it’s their problem, not mine. I’m the boss, you do as I say. I’m entitled to my opinion, and you’re entitled to yours.
I go to church each week. I support charities. I look out for people – I’m entitled to call myself a Christian and to expect God to deliver on my prayers when I need Him. Yes?
But let’s look at how Jesus lived – does He reveal a sense of entitlement? If anyone could be said to deserve a sense of entitlement surely it’s Jesus!
Son of God, His birth announced by angels, Lord of the Universe, resurrected from the dead – a lot of respect due there.
But he honoured His Father, was humble, served others, lived and shared the same unpretentious, simple, communal life as his disciples and friends.
He died and rose to life again, not for Himself – for us. And it’s not because we’ve earned anything, or because we’re entitled. It’s because of God’s grace.
Give up or take up for Lent? Your choice.
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor is a freelance editor and production editor for the Tasmanian Anglican magazine. She enjoys people, writing, cooking and singing in the choir of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart. She lives in natural bushland on the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html