What Are You Giving Up For Lent?
Along with the promise of spring, March brings with it the arrival of Lent, the season of repentance culminating in Holy Week when we remember what our Lord did for us on the cross, before we finally celebrate the Easter season. Within the Church Year, Lent has a flavor all its own. The poetry in Lenten hymnody is some of the most stirring in all hymnody.
For many Christians, along with the addition of midweek services and Fish Fry Fridays, one of the most recognizable characteristics of Lent is the practice of giving something up. In an attempt to remind themselves of what our Lord gave up for us, many Christians take upon themselves a form of personal sacrifice all their own during the 40 days of Lent. Some people give up chocolate. Others give up coffee or pop. Some people give up meat on Fridays. Some people give up sweets or alcohol.
But I would encourage you to think of Lent in a different way this year. Instead of asking yourself, “What can I give up for Lent?” ask yourself, “What can I add for Lent?” You see, the practice of fasting or giving something up during Lent has lost one crucial elements over the years. Originally, fasting during Lent, or any other time for that matter, did not simply mean giving up food. It also meant that the time that would have been spent eating was instead spent in the Word of God and in prayer. Fasting wasn’t really about what someone was giving up, it was more about what someone was adding – namely extra time reading and meditating on the Scriptures.
The incarnation offers a helpful illustration, for it is just as much about what Jesus added as it is about what he gave up. When the second member of the Trinity became the man Jesus, he did not stop being God. He did not give up his divinity, but he added his humanity. His human nature was taken up into, sort of absorbed into, his divine nature. And by adding our humanity, he added all the things that go along with being human.
He added the ability to feel hunger. Therefore, when the devil tempted him to abuse his power and turn stones into bread after 40 days of fasting, the physical temptation to eat was intensely real. He added the ability to feel fatigue, so that when he spent long days ministering to people and long days teaching and proclaiming the Gospel, he felt the fact that birds have nests and foxes have holes, while the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. He added the ability to feel the emotional pain of loss, so that he wept at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. He added the ability to feel pain, so that the beatings and abuse he suffered at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers produced real pain.
But more than any of those things, in the incarnation our Lord added to himself the burden of our sin. It’s what Lutherans call the Joyous Exchange. All the things that rightly belong to us are added to Jesus, belong now to Jesus. And all the things that rightly belong to Jesus as God’s only Son are added to us by virtue of our adoption into his family through the waters of Holy Baptism.
So as Lent begins, I ask not what are you giving up, but what are you adding this Lent? Are you adding prayer time? Are you adding time in the Word? I encourage you to make use of the prayer journal available through the church office by setting aside time as a family to give up a part of your normal routine and add in time for God’s Word and Prayer. Consider the self-sacrifice of Lent in terms of what is being added this year, not what is being lost, for our peace and comfort are found not in what we have given up, but in what has been added to us: the righteousness of Christ.