Message from Fr. David
Why Do We Give up Something for Lent?
BY NEELA KALE FEBRUARY 17, 2017
You're out with your friends on a Friday night and suddenly you notice that one of them has switched from his favorite microbrew to ... lemonade? Is it time for Lent already? Giving up something for Lent sometimes evokes head-scratching in non-Christian, but what might seem like just another Christian eccentricity can actually be a practice with deep spiritual significance.
Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church. Converts seeking to become Christian, who at that time were mostly adults, spent several years in study and preparation. Under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business, so their process of preparation was intensive! Then they went through a final period of "purification and enlightenment" for the 40 days before their baptism at Easter. The rest of the Church began to observe the season of Lent in solidarity with these newest Christians. It became an opportunity for all Christians to recall and renew the commitment of their baptism.
Today we know Lent as a season of conversion: We acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives, and We focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. Hence the three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These observances help us turn away from whatever has distracted or derailed us and to turn back to God. Giving up something for Lent is ultimately a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might "give up" a bad habit such as smoking as a way of positively turning our life back toward what God wants for us.
As we begin our journey into Lent, we are confronted questions about how we should observe this season of introspection, self examination, reconciliation and repentance. We will return to saying confession at the Eucharist and say different prayers that help us identify that we need to speak to God about how we should consider our own mortality as Jesus walks closer to the events of Holy Week. As Episcopalians, we embrace the practices of early Christians who stood in solidarity for seekers desiring to become Christians through baptism at the time of Easter celebration. We do not conduct or celebrate baptisms during Lent, unless it is an emergent case preparing for death.
It is customary to kneel at the Eucharistic Prayer during Lent and other penitential seasons, like Advent. This is a gesture of reverence and repentance as we prepare to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. For those who are able, it is also customary to kneel to receive communion at the rail. Our Episcopal tradition however allows and affords for people to worship in a comfortable posture in church, and whether you kneel, stand or sit, you cannot offend God.
Personal confession is also encouraged during Lent, or at any time, as you may feel called to do so. As your priest my time is always available to you to meet for confession. Just contact me to schedule a time. To know how confession works for Episcopalians, turn to the Book of Common Prayer in the section "The Reconciliation of a Penitent". This brief encounter is a confidential conversation between you and your priest, and with God.
There is a saying in Anglican-Episcopal circles regarding the Sacrament of Confession: All may, none must, some should. I admit to initially liking this aphorism. Mostly because I had never made my confession and I had no intention of ever doing so. I liked the "none must" part; it felt non-threatening. I also liked "all may". To each their own, right? And the "some should" tag on the end provides a bit of smug self-affirmation, an obvious reference to all the other folks with a lot worse sins than mine.
I liked that adage about confession because it made me feel safe. But the truth is that there is nothing safe about holding on to one's sins. To the contrary, sin is the most destructive force to human life; it is this very force that Our Lord's passion and death set out to destroy.
When making sacramental confession in the presence of a priest, the sting the conscience feels is the reality of the danger of sin exposed to the light of day. In the sacrament of confession we experience the dangerous affects of our sin in real, tangible ways. The part that is often overlooked is that we also experience the grace of God's forgiveness, the eternal life, which is the fruit of the cross, in real, tangible ways. The words of the penitent fall out of a real mouth and onto real ears. But so too do the words of council, comfort, absolution, and forgiveness fall out of a real mouth and onto real ears.
As the catechism in The Book of Common Prayer says of all the sacraments, confession is just one more "sure and certain means" by which we receive the healing and saving grace of God.
I feel differently about that saying now, as I do the sacrament of confession. It is usually offered as instructive: As an Episcopalian do I need to make my confession? Well my child, "As the saying goes, all may, none must, some should."
I'd like to reorder the saying just a bit, and suggest it is descriptive of what actually happens in parish life. Regarding the sacrament of confession, some may, none must, all should. It is true that some have chosen to make the sacrament a regular part of their spiritual discipline. I doubt you will find a person who regrets it.
It is also true that none must make their confession. This bears particular emphasis, because the truth is none of the Christian life is mandatory. To see it as such is to radically miss the point. We don't have to go to church. We don't have to say our prayers. We don't have to love God or our neighbor. We don't have to be baptized or receive the Eucharist. We don't have to make our confession. We don't have to pray, or fast, or tithe, or serve in ministry, or study the Scriptures. We don't have to do any of it! The sacraments of the church - Our Lord himself being the chief sacrament - are God's gift of life and salvation to His beloved. And like any gift, we do not have to receive it. We can leave it on the table, all wrapped up, until the end of the age. We cannot receive the benefit if we do not receive the gift, but that is our decision. As with all the spiritual disciplines, they exist for our own health and well-being. We choose our own path and its resultant outcomes.
Of course "none must" partake of the sacrament of confession. None of this stuff is required! However it is my strong conviction that this sacrament is one of the most overlooked gifts of the church. So I would say the same thing for confession as I would of any spectacular life-giving gift from God, "All should" receive the gift.
Father David +