If you were to take a random sampling of people on almost any street in America today, including the streets of southern Ohio, and were to ask them one simple fill-in-the-blank question, what do you suppose the majority of answers would be?
The question (or statement, as it were) is: Please fill in the blank: “The season of Lent is a time of ……….”
I have indeed done that from time to time, and the majority of the answers have proven consistent over the years. The majority of people will fill in the blank with the phrase, “giving up something.” Oh, various people have used other terms, such as “sacrifice” or “loss” or some such terms, but the idea is the same. Most people, when asked about the days leading up to the Easter holiday, will respond by thinking about things like “giving up chocolates” or “cutting down on sweets” or “only eating donut holes instead of donuts.” Only one time has someone suggested she was giving up something other than a dietary morsel that they craved. That individual defiantly asserted, “For Lent, I am giving up watching ‘Days of Our Lives’”.
While it may be true that Lent involves sacrifice, may I suggest that there is a more all-encompassing perspective on this season of the year? The 40 days leading up to Easter are primarily a time for preparation. It is a time when we are preparing for the greatest holiday in the history of the Christian church. Yes, that does include sacrifice, but it is more than that. And it certainly involves more than food or soap operas. Lent is a solemn time of reflection, repentance and renewal.
Some years ago, my bride and I were spending some time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were hiking down a trail returning from one of the several falls we visited that day when my wife, who was out in front of me on trail and had just gone out of my sight around a bend, yelled at me to come quick. I sped up my pace and turned the bend to find her standing in the trail, frozen in her tracks, and not moving. Expecting to see her face to face with a giant bear, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small dawn standing in the trail about 50 feet in front of her. The deer was grazing on the grasses alongside the trail and seemed to be in no hurry to move.
Susie said to me, “What do we do now?” Taking the lead and moving in front of her, I said, “We keep on moving down the trail.” As we moved so did the fawn, until finally, perhaps 100 yards further ahead, the deer bolted down the side of the mountain into the forest and out of our way.
I recalled this incident when I thought about the preparation that Lent should be. You and I should be moving toward Jesus, not frightened by his presence in our pathway. Bible scholar N. T. Wright echoes this sentiment when describing how we should avoid sin and embrace the way of Jesus. He says, “Think of an animal you’d really be afraid of, whether it’s an angry rhinoceros or a large spider. If you came round a corner and found yourself facing it, what would you want to do? Run away, of course. Well, [as a follower of Jesus] that’s how you should feel about a [lifestyle of greed, lust, jealousy, injustice, or another sinful pattern]. Then think how you’d feel if you saw the person you loved best in the entire world, who you hadn’t seen for years, walking down the street. What would you do? Why, chase after [him or her], of course. That’s how you should behave when you think of Jesus and the new life that he is offering you and the whole world.” *
Lent, then, should be a time of pursuing Jesus, of chasing after Him, of spending time with Him in His Word. The psalmist said it best when he penned these words: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11).
As for me, I want to spend this Lenten season chasing after Jesus, don’t you?
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.