This is the first year that I have actually attempted to prepare myself for Easter.
Because I have never done this before that sentence alone seems a little awkward to me. Growing up in our house the way we celebrated Easter was cinnamon rolls for breakfast with a few simple gifts, church, a nice lunch with some church folk and then an egg drop competition. Yes, an egg drop competition.
Everyone who was invited for lunch had to build a contraption that would protect an egg from being broken as it was dropped from shoulder height, basketball hoop height, the first floor and second floor window, and then if it made it that far, the roof of our house. We’ve tried everything from styrofoam, bubble wrap, bread, fruit, jello, parachutes and anything in between in making our devices. I have countless Easter memories of my brothers and I climbing up to the roof of our house and throwing egg contraptions to the ground while our mother nervously waited below. Even though some of the day was a little unconventional, our family definitely celebrated Easter. Yet, I have never prepared myself for Easter.
The way that I am preparing myself during the Lent season is rather traditional, reflection thru self-examination and fasting. The intention for the Lent fast is to symbolize and imitate Jesus’ wilderness fast (Matthew 4). Over the years as I have watched other people fast for Lent I have viewed it rather indifferently. It seemed somewhat trivial and ritualistic (ie – People give up something for Lent, because they are supposed to. It is what you do if you are a “good catholic.” I single out catholics, because in my up bringing I never met a protestant who observed Lent. Now, I am meeting all sorts.).
But in this Lent season I am discovering that there is a whole lot more behind the Lent fast than fasting because “its what you are supposed to do.” Rather, the intention behind the fast is that of entering into, engaging with and being shaped by the story of Jesus. While there are many ways to articulate and express the story of Jesus, during Lent it’s articulated through the expression of self-denial.
In the story of Jesus we see self-denial as a significant theme, not just in Christ’s wilderness fast, but also in his continual submission to the Father (John 5v19). It’s one of the main requirements of discipleship (Mark 8v34). We find it is expressed in Paul’s brilliant poem in his letter to the Philippians (2v1-11). And we see it in Jesus’ prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but your will be done” (Luke 22v42).
As I participate in Lent, I am discovering that my natural disposition isn’t that of self-denial, rather it’s that of self-indulgence. I am finding that in my life desire is king. With any desire that creeps up in my heart, my initial reaction is to indulge in and satisfy that desire. This instinct has been shaped in my life by living in the story of consumption. The consumption story is being told all around us all the time in a variety of ways. Take this Burger King ad for example. The story this ad is telling is obvious. You are the master of your destiny and whatever desires you experience, you have the right to have those desires satisfied. It’s not a story of self-denial, but one of self-gratification. And the story of consumption and self-indulgence always leaves us wanting. We are never truly satisfied. Through this Lent season I’ve been learning that I am a major player in that story.
So, as I engage in Lent for the first time, I am learning that Lent isn’t something we do to be labeled a “good catholic” or a good whatever…, but it is a season that intentionally reminds us that Jesus invites us into a different story, a better story, a story that starts with self-denial but ends with great joy, resurrection and true satisfaction.