Lasting Lenten sacrifice

Take a break from polarization, not chocolate

Mar 18, 2019 by and

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What are you giving up for Lent? Like showing up for Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday worship services, Lenten self-sacrifice is one of the few church traditions that still finds some measure of appeal with the secular masses.

For a bit more than a month, much of the wider population is willing to go without something they otherwise can’t live without. Fish sandwiches show up on fast-food menus as Catholics and others turn their backs momentarily on hamburger. Knowing Easter egg candy is on the way, chocolate fits the bill for some. Others might lay off alcohol. Social media sabbaticals have been trendy lately. Such a detox or “cleanse” doesn’t even need religious trappings, which probably adds to the allure.

For the religiously inclined, the symbolic sacrifice can be a means of drawing closer to God in preparation for celebrating Christ’s victory over death. But giving up a sliver of life, like sweets or certain animals’ flesh, is a largely private affair, though humble braggers nonchalantly tell anyone within earshot of the Lenten cross they’ve decided to bear.

Anabaptists, defined by fellowship, can find a better Lenten practice in community.

Giving up something isn’t the point these days. Isolation is easy. With polarization rampant, why not take a break from that and actively seek out someone with whom you disagree and seek an elusive common ground? “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

This may still include laying off social media, or at least intentionally using it for good. Facebook’s ideological echo chambers and low-engagement name-calling may draw handfuls of people together, but it pushes bigger groups apart. Lent is a time for repentance and reflection, and disengagement with “the other” has been too easily accepted or ignored.

Take a cue from Martin Luther King Day. The national holiday isn’t used best as a day off. A bigger impact is made on lives when it’s “a day on” for service. What better way to prepare for Christ’s resurrection and victory over the powers of death than engaging more deeply with others, rather than less?

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing” (Joel 2:13-14).

If we enter into dialogue in the Lenten season’s spirit of humility, the resulting fruit will last long after the Easter jellybeans have disappeared.

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