What Lent is Really All About

February 22, 2012
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
People have often asked me that over the last ten years since I was ordained a priest.  It was something I used to ask myself each year.  What was I going to give up for Lent?
One year I gave up beer.  Bad move.  I don’t think it did me any good.  All it did was heighten my sense of anticipation of an ice cold Corona as soon as I got home from services on Easter Sunday.  Since one of my best friends, a gifted priest you all probably know, shared with me words of wisdom an old priest gave him at his ordination: “Never give up beer for Lent.”  Lesson learned .
One time I gave up caffeine for Lent.  No coffee, no caffeinated soda, no chocolate, nothing with caffeine.  Besides giving me some wicked headaches for a week or so I don’t think that did me any good either.  On Easter morning I literally watched the coffee brew.  I was so excited!  As I relished my mug of coffee and devoured a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg on the way to the Easter services my heart began racing—not because I was excited about church, but because after going more than six weeks without caffeine my heart was reacting accordingly.  I was literally on the verge of bouncing off the walls that morning.  And of course, giving up caffeine for Lent not only deepened my relationship with God but also made me exceptionally pleasant to be around for my family and friends…not .
While some people give up something for Lent, others take on something instead, like reading the Bible each day or doing something for the needy each day.
A friend of mine once made a list of all the people with whom he felt disconnected or at odds, and over the course of Lent did all he could through letters, phone calls and meetings to be reconciled with everyone on the list.  It was a blessing with those who responded well, but with those who wanted nothing to do with that person, it was no blessing at all; it only made the wounds worse.
Of course there is nothing at all wrong with either giving up something for Lent or taking on something for Lent.  But if those things become our focus, we completely miss the whole point of Lent.
Ultimately Lent is not about what you give up or take on for God.
Lent is about what God gave up and took on for you.
We see this clearly in today’s reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21).
What did Jesus give up for you?  Everything.
In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians we read that Jesus Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (2:6-8).
Jesus gave up heaven…gave up his omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience.
Jesus gave up all his power…well, almost all of his power…he kept the power to forgive sins.
When Jesus healed the paralytic he forgave his sins first, and then healed him, so that, as he told the crowd, “you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).
In the 1997 film City of Angels Nicholas Cage plays an angel named Seth who falls madly in love with a heart surgeon named Maggie, played by Meg Ryan.  In order to be with her Seth gives up being an eternal angel and becomes a mortal human being.  Very soon after Seth gives up everything, Maggie dies in a tragic bicycling accident.  An angel named Cassiel, one of the angels with whom Seth used to serve, asked Seth if he had known this tragedy would happen, would he have still become human.
Listen to Seth’s response: “I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One.”
Seth gave up everything for Maggie because he loved her that much.
Jesus gave up everything for you, because He loves you that much.
And what did Jesus take on for you?
Everything.
He took on all that it means to be a human being, all the joy, grief, confusion, anxiety…the scraped knees, the hormonal insanity of adolescence, the awkward moments, the hilarious moments, the heartbreaking moments…all the drama you experience as a human being…including… your sin—“For our sake (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin.”
The Bible tells us that Jesus never sinned…never…not once; that even though he was tempted in every way you and I are tempted, he never gave in…never…not once (Hebrews 4:15).
And yet in his death on the cross Jesus took on all your sin, all of it.
Jesus took on every mean thing you’ve ever said, the ones you wish you could take back and the ones you honestly don’t want to take back.
Jesus took on every hurtful thing you’ve ever done to someone else.
Jesus took on every twisted or perverted or hateful or prejudiced thought that’s ever crossed your mind.
Jesus took on every skeleton in your closet.
Jesus took it all upon himself.
And Jesus took it all upon himself so you could be forgiven.  As he was nailed to the cross he cried out, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
And Paul writes that God did this so that you “might become the righteousness of God”—in other words, so that you could be completely forgiven, totally forgiven, of all your sin—so that you could have a fresh start in your life, a clean slate, a brand new beginning.
Jesus literally gave up everything and took on everything in order to touch you with his grace and forgiveness, because he loves you that much.
So this Lent, if you want to give up something or take on something, by all means go for it.
But be encouraged, because Lent is really all about what God in Jesus Christ has already given up and taken on for you—everything—because He loves you that much.
Amen.

Bible References

  • 2 Corinthians 5:21

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