When I was growing up in the Bible Belt no one ever mentioned Lent. I didn’t know a single adult who participated in the practice. I never saw people walking around town with a thumbprint of ashes on their foreheads.
Seems to me that Baptist were sacrificing stuff all the time — we didn’t really need a season of sacrifice. We were already forbidden from drinking, playing cards, seeing anything but a Disney movie, wearing pants with a fly in the front, shopping or doing homework on Sundays.
The first real Lenten Service I ever attended was in Los Angeles in 2003. We were getting ready to depart LA for Vietnam. There was a priest going on the trip with us. A veteran who lost a leg in Vietnam. If you lose a limb in war that ought to cover all your Lenten seasons for life, wouldn’t you think? If you lose a limb in war you should never have to sacrifice anything again as proof of your devotion to God or others.
But then maybe we look at this whole Lenten season the wrong way anyway.
Maybe it isn’t about what is being sacrificed, but about what already has been given.
That’s what a pastor at a church in Pine Mountain, Georgia claimed when I was visiting his church in December. He told the story of a World War II veteran who had lost a limb. I can’t remember if it was a leg or an arm. Anyway, as the pastor told it, the soldier said he didn’t lose his limb in World War II — he gave it.
He gave it outright.
Oh. That doesn’t imply that he had no more need of it. It just means that despite his need for that limb he was willing to part with it for the benefit of others.
It was the soldier’s sacrifice to give, and he did so without a sense of being owed something in return.
Truth is that soldier doesn’t want anything in return.
In light of that, our giving up chocolate, or wine, or social media in response for such a gift seems absolutely ludicrous, doesn’t it?
I don’t think Jesus is any different than that old War War II veteran. Nothing we offer him comes even close to the sacrifice he’s already made on our behalf.
Maybe a thankful heart is the only worthy offering in response.