Wednesday, February 17, 2010
“No cattle past this point” was the sign at the San Antonio Rodeo and Stock Show.
This sign reminds me of the start of Lent, as many Christians use Ash Wednesday as a time to start giving up something, like meat, to remember Christ’s sacrifices. Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” functioned as a time to celebrate and party before beginning the more penitential season of Lent. As a grace-oriented Lutheran Christian, I know I don’t have to give anything up for Lent, but can use Lent as a time for being more intentional about my Christian identity.
The season of Lent started as a time of preparation for Baptism. From the earliest centuries of Christianity, people were welcomed into the Church through baptism. Usually baptisms were only performed at one time in the church year—Easter. At the service of the Easter Vigil, followers of Jesus gathered around a fire all night and into the morning, remembering and retelling stories from the Bible of God’s saving deeds. Persons new to Christianity—called catechumens—were baptized at the Easter Vigil and welcomed into the faith. In preparation for Baptism, the catechumens would have a period of preparation, usually involving prayer, fasting, and acts of charity. Other Christians in solidarity with those new to the faith, would join in these preparatory activities. This time of prayer and reflection evolved into the season of Lent.
Lent should not become another chance to fall back into “shouting church” mentality where we strictly force you to do something. Rather, it is an invitation to be intentional. Maybe you will give something up, but maybe you’ll take something on, like prayer, scripture reading, or giving to the needy. Like a sign at the rodeo, Lent is a boundary for us. It tells us we are coming into something new and different.