LENT: USEFUL OR NOT? Luke 4:1

 

Oh to have been in Rio for the Mardi Gras festivities. Well maybe not this year. Usually the Samba Schools would be out in force making the most of their liberty before the severe Lenten fast in a very Catholic country. Shrove Tuesday is pretty popular here too, pancakes and all that, though I think we have lost most of the religious connection these days. But it still surprises me how many otherwise nonreligious folk decide to give something up for Lent.

 

Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the Devil.

 

Of course, the 40 days of Lent stems from Jesus’ retreat into the desert, and over the centuries Lent has been used by Christians as an annual moral spring clean. Is this helpful?

 

Some would say very much so, and of course this is the official line of the church across the denominations. But I must confess I have never found much in it for me spiritually. St Paul talks at length in Romans 14 about how some people find it helpful to differentiate the days and regulate their diet, others treat the days all the same and find it makes no difference eating certain things or not as a spiritual exercise. What do you think?

 

More confessions: Holy Week drags for me. I do not need to put on a long face and plod through Good Friday, in fact I am always really glad when it is over. “He is risen!” Why pretend otherwise? Yet clearly I am in a tiny minority here.

 

In the past, ‘good’ housewives did an annual spring clean about this time of year. (I choose my words carefully here!) Several days were set aside to give the house a thorough going over, ridding the dark corners of dirt that had built up over the winter. But how many of us do such a spring clean nowadays? And when many years ago I was working as a delivery driver in south London, I was intrigued to see in the kitchen of one of the first MacDonald’s joints a slogan in large letters in the kitchen which said, ‘Clean as you go.’

 

I confess that while I am no fan of their burgers, I sympathise entirely with MacDonald’s’ policy, that is in the spiritual sense. For me every day has a time of personal review. The thought of letting things slide only to address them in an annual blitz fills me with horror. I am far too flaky for that. The slimy bits of my life need to be dealt with right away or they fester. I am sure you take my point!

 

If you find observing the 40 days of Lent a helpful spiritual exercise then I am delighted for you. But I hope you will allow me the freedom to differ and clean as I go. And, by the way, he is risen!