Ready or not?

If you are reading this blog the weekend I am writing, than you have passed the halfway point of Lent- Congratulations! This year our family ministry team made a conscious effort to encourage this practice among our families. Practices of fasting, prayer, worship, and generosity are all highlighted this season of the Christian calendar, and I hope you’ve had a chance to practice.

In the midst of Lent I have been reading a book called The Good of Giving Up by Aaron Damiani, and Anglican priest. As a member of a high church tradition, his congregation is deeply involved in the Lenten practice, and his book highlights some of the reason for that. I was struck recently by a portion early on in his writing though. Why celebrate Lent? Because, in his words,  “you are not yet ready for Easter”. 

WHat does he mean by that? He goes on to discuss the fact that in his early life, Easter services never quite lived up to the gravity that it seemed they should have. We might break out some special songs and say “Christ is Risen” with the congregation, but it rarely felt like much more than an average church service. His argument is that Lent, the season that precedes the day is just as important and vital to our understanding of Easter Sunday, and that we find the most celebration when we have prepared ourselves in the month leading up. I thought I would share some simple ways that Lent contributes to our Easter celebration (and remind you that even if you have not embraced this season thus far, there is still plenty of time). How do we help ourselves make Easter the celebration it ought to be?

1. give something up

Lent has traditionally been a time for fasting. During this time Christians will give up many things, (traditionally meat). There are many reasons for this, but one of the most practical with Easter in mind is that the giving up of something makes the receiving it back at the Easter dinner feast all the sweeter. Fasting in the season before is a way to employ our sense of taste as a reminder of how great a celebration Easter is. To have given up something like meat elevates the Easter dinner celebration to a whole new level. It embodies a core message of Easter: In Christ we lay down our pleasures with him in death only to be elevated to glory and freedom in the resurrection

2. Take time to read the whole story

Everyone knows that Christmas and Easter are the most attended church gatherings of the year. It’s a disappointing trend, but one that I’m guessing most of you who are reading avoid. I’m glad! But that said, don’t let that mentality infect your personal Bible reading habits either. Don’t just be content to take a look at the Easter story in the Gospels and skim the rest. During Lent, take time to actually read a whole Gospel. We evangelicals have a tendency to make Jesus a tool- a means to an end, namely the afterlife. We can do this because when we focus on one story, we don’t have to interact as much with Jesus the person. When we read a whole Gospel, we are confronted by the actual person Jesus. His life draws us to his character, and we come to love him for him, not just for what he can do for us. Likewise, his actions cut deeply against the grain of our own lives, and we are confronted with our sin and called to action. When we find ourselves loving and following Jesus the man, his resurrection is not simply a reassuring transaction on our part, but the return to life of a great friend, something all of us can rejoice about.

3. Don’t skip over the sad stories at the end

On good Friday we recall the suffering and death of Jesus. It is a sobering time that we reflect on before we reach the joy of Easter Sunday. I was once in a Good Friday service where a member of our congregation who had been invited to do special music came on stage and admonished everyone to cease being so somber and rejoice with her because Jesus was not dead. While they were very sincere in their worship, I believe they missed out on something crucial. The reason Easter is so glorious is precisely because of the grief that came before it. This season, don’t try to skim over the pain of the stories we engage with. Let yourself be struck by the dark, somber nature of the events that precede the resurrection. They allow us to experience the painful death that we have been freed from in Christ. 

I hope your Lenten season has been a blessing so far, and that my suggestions can be of some help! If you haven’t begun yet, it’s not too late- observe with us as we get ready for Easter so that we can celebrate all the more when we get together that morning!

Dan Vandzura