Last week I wrote an article on the topic of Lent. Here is part of my conclusion:
The church calendar is not a restaurant menu. That is, there are not a la carte items. You can’t pick and choose your favorites and leave the others out. You can’t have Easter without Lent. You can’t have Christmas without Advent. Like the five points of Calvinism, they all go together. In the church you eat what you have been served — all of it.
When I wrote that, I had in my sights the inconsistency of those who like to pick and choose from the church calendar that which suits their fancy. To me, at least, it’s not consistent to take the parts of the calendar one likes – usually Easter and Christmas – and reject the other parts; and it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The opposite blade of that knife cuts against something else I have been noticing. Lent has become fashionable among those outside the church. I have plenty of friends who haven’t darkened the door of a church in a long time and yet outspokenly give things up for Lent. Frankly, like with the former group, it doesn’t make whole lot of sense to me. Who would have thought fasting and discipline and giving things up would have become fashionable? I am continually amazed at how many pagans who are completely unfamiliar with the church and with the story of Jesus know – at least in rudimentary concepts – what Lent is, and not just know what it is, but also try to adopt it in some fashion.
Ironically, this is the same error in principle but applied in a different direction, of those who like Easter but dislike Lent; like those who celebrate Christmas but skip over Advent. To my friends who have no interest in the church or in the things of Christ, I would press them with the same argument I raised concerning those who observe Easter but not Lent, with one slight twist. I would say to those outside the church seeking to observe Lent the same thing I would say to those who reject Lent and embrace Easter. The church calendar is not a restaurant menu. That is, there are not a la carte items. You can’t pick and choose your favorites and leave the others out. But then the twist. Instead of saying, “you can’t have Easter without Lent” as I did to Lent rejecters, I would say, “you can’t have Lent without Easter.”
And really, why would you want Lent without Easter? Without sounding trite, that really is no fun. But that is how the law gets twisted and abused. It gets twisted into something that exists in and of itself, rather than as a means to point us to the good news of the gospel. The good news is that Jesus is alive. The good news is that after Lent comes Easter. After sacrifice comes feasting.
To my friends outside of the church who are interested and intrigued by Lent I would simply say: If you think Lent is interesting, you ought to come and celebrate Easter with us for 50 days. It will blow your mind. Lent’s got nothing on Easter. A man was dead and buried and three days later he came back to life demonstrating that we, too, will live with him. Come celebrate Easter. Be baptized. And experience a new life.
If you can’t have Easter without Lent, then the converse is most certainly true: You can’t have Lent without Easter. And why in the world would you want to?