A few days ago three of us in the region office staff went to get a sandwich for lunch at the neighboring Primo's Hoagie Shop. Placed prominently up front next to cashier's box was this "Lent Menu", obviously made with non-meat products - hearkening to the popular tradition of fasting during Lent which has evolved to simply mean "depriving" one's self of certain enjoyable food - in this case, meat products. And to a certain degree, Lent in America has taken on a cartoonish visage. This morning the news showed a clip of Alec Baldwin who was a guest of Jimmy Kimmel the night before, having a jovial conversation about Lent. It turns out that both are Catholics. Asked what he is giving up for Lent, Baldwin responded, to the laughter of the audience, that he once tried to give up cursing, being the foul-mouthed person that he claims to be.
What does Lent mean to you? Is it fasting from your favorite food? Is it giving up momentarily and lightheartedly a peculiar habit?
The gospel writers made a theological connection between the wilderness wandering of the Hebrew slaves, and Jesus' sojourn in the wilderness following his baptism. Whether the number 40 is an actual mathematical number is not the main point of the assertion. Rather, the salient theological basis of the connection is that as God's incarnate Son, Jesus is the "New Israel", God's final covenant, and the inner unity of the Old Testament and the New Testament is celebrated.
We are once again in the season of Lent, the 40-day period (Quadragesima in Latin; and Cuaresma in Spanish) in the Christian liturgical calendar which began on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter Sunday. Yet this very sacred season in Christianity has almost been subsumed in our predominantly consumerist, individualistic and secularized religion of American popular culture.
The Lenten season is a period when the Christian believer is invited back to enter the "sanctuary" of God's presence, the pathway of Jesus - to once again walk in his footsteps, that in so doing we are renewed and reanchored in this lifetime journey of being formed ever closer into the image of Christ. Lent is a time of disciplined spiritual reflection, spiritual self-emptying, repentance and atonement as preparation to commemorate the sacrificial and loving self-giving of God through Jesus and his cross. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to the never-ending ethical imperative of the disciple to be a living and faithful example of whom we follow.
These words from the prophet Amos instruct us:
"I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." Amos 5: 21-24 (NRSV)