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The Meaning of Lent: It’s Not Just About Giving Things up

By Periscope @periscopepost
The meaning of Lent: It’s not just about giving things up

The Temptations of Christ in the Wilderness by Botticelli

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar, the time leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s traditionally a time for giving things up in order to test oneself – in the image of Christ, who was forty days and forty nights in the desert. Commentators are discussing the festival’s continuing importance. In St Louis, America, you can even get your ashes “to go”, from the Rev Teresa K M Danieley, who offers them to passers by at an intersection. Godliness to go. Marvellous.

Jesus in the wilderness is tempted by three things: to turn stones into bread, to gain power over people, and to make himself invulnerable – all of which he rejects. Later in his life, he does do these miraculous things – but for others.

A chance to change the world. Jane Williams in The Guardian said that that’s why for these weeks, “we try to see that the world doesn’t crumble if we don’t have everything we want.”It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian – you still have to make Jesus’ choice – can you live whilst getting as much for yourself as possible, or can you think of a different way? In these “hard times” we can take the time to think about a “changed world” in which the rich can deal with less than they have, and in which poverty is not a “misdemeanour”, but a “failure of society.” What Jesus did – standing up for the unimportant – is a “far cry from giving up chocolate” – but we must still keep up with Lenten disciplines. Because when Lent ends, the vision of the world which has been imagined still remains. It’s a vision where “the good life for me is unimaginable unless it is also the good life for you.”

A chance to think about death. On Ash Wednesday, said a Guardian editorial, people are marked with ashes on their forehead as a reminder of their “own mortality.” “Know that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But death is not something we generall talk about. We camouflage it with “fluffy euphemisms.” When asked “how we want to die”, we say we want it to happen “painlessly and preferably in our sleep” – in other words, as something isn’t part of life. This would have made very little sense in past ages, when death “was an opportunity to put things right.” Death asks the question to all, religious or not, “what life is all about.” But when talking about it is not in the “public realm”, then the question loses its urgency. When we keep death apart, we forget how to comfort others “in their grief.” Our care homes are neglected; instead of offerring our support we believe that we’re respecting people’s privacy. Lent is often a time for “cheery self-improvement.” But really, we “cannot resolve the meaning of life by not asking the question of death.”

A chance to challenge yourself. Anne Marie Roddick on The Huffington Post advised people to try “giving up or adding something that takes you out of your comfort zone.” “Challenge God to walk with you as you challenge yourself — and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised to find that God will.”

… and a chance to protect yourself? And in any case, scientists have found that fasting apparently helps your brain – protecting against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases. Maybe Jesus Christ was onto a good thing.

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