“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love…My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” – John 15:9, 10, 12-14
This past week, a thought popped into my head that Lent is the most love filled season of the whole Christian year. I’ve been considering this and I believe it might be true.
When I first became an Episcopalian in the mid-sixties, I loved all things liturgical and I still do. I loved Lent. I didn’t eat meat for 40 days, and for years, I observed a fairly strict fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I believe this did my spiritual life some good, even though I did it because it was expected and I loved the ritual. I came to realize that Lent wasn’t helping me get rid of what I called my “worm theology”. I thought being dust meant that I was bad, as low as the worms wiggling around in the dirt. The Ash Wednesday service tells us, “Remember [O human], that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Somehow, I got the wrong idea about that. I didn’t know that Lent was supposed to help change my life, not only for 40 days not counting Sundays, but for the days after Easter, as well. So, I still love Lent, but…
But I’ve been thinking (hmm…maybe I should give that up for Lent.), what if Lent is all about Love. What if it’s about loving God and loving your neighbor. What if it’s about … but wait!! Isn’t Lent about repentance and sacrifice because Jesus gave up his life for us in a horrible way? Isn’t it always about this? Yes, but what does that mean? This – to repent means to turn around. It means to return to the way of Jesus in this case. Sacrifice means to consecrate or to make holy – ourselves in this case. Sacrifice means to give up our rights to our holy selves for the love of others because Jesus did.
There is nothing wrong with giving up chocolate or coffee or dessert, or whatever else we choose for Lent. I, for one, am going to return to eating in a healthier manner hoping that it will help me feel better. I hope Lent will be a motivator. Honoring God by taking care of our bodies is a holy spiritual exercise. However, giving up a single food item stopped working as a Lenten discipline for me several years past. I realized that it wasn’t making me a better person who was becoming more like Jesus. There is nothing wrong about doing so if we remember what Lent is about and get the order strait – “Love God, love your neighbor, lay down your life for your friends.”
What would our Lenten disciplines be if we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice was, and is, part of a great love story? How would we love God? How would we love our friends? How would we love our neighbor? How would we love even our enemies? Love lays down its life for friends, neighbors, and enemies. How would we use our precious time? Would we be willing to give up some of it for the purposes of God? Would we make that our spiritual exercise? “Will I,” is the real question.
What Lenten discipline will help? The very first thing “I will” by giving up my time is to turn and return to the arms of my Lover who waits, who aches to spend alone time with me/with us. We are created for this. God is lonely for me when I’m not there. I’m lonely, too. If this is my priority, if I love God first, if I pay attention to God first, If I spend time with him just being together first, then I will begin to know how it is that I, personally, am called to lay down my life in love for my friends, my neighbors, and even my enemies whom God already loves, by the way.
Perhaps Lent is all about love…
“Come! Spirit of Love! Penetrate and transform us by the action of Your purifying life. May Your constant, brooding love bring forth in us more love and all the graces and works of love. Give us grace to remain still under its action and may that humble stillness be our prayer. Amen.” ~ Evelyn Underhill