Great Lent | Thomas Howard | From Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God In Liturgy and Sacrament | Ignatius Insight
Presently Lent arrives. This is the forty days leading up to Easter, which also recall the forty days of Christ's temptation in the wilderness. There is a telescoping of things here, since His temptation did not in actual fact immediately precede His Passion, but "liturgical time" is such that spiritual significance may override chronological exactness.
Lent, like Advent, is a time of penitence. Here we identify ourselves with the Lord's fast and ordeal in the wilderness, which He bore for us.
This raises a point worth noting in passing. There are some varieties of Protestant theology and spirituality that so stress "the finished work of Christ" and the fact that He accomplished everything, that they leave no room at all for any participation on our part. Such participation, encouraged by the ancient Church, does not mean that we mortals claim any of the merit that attaches to Christ's work, much less that we can by one thousandth particle add to His work. Nevertheless, the gospel teaches us that Christians are more than mere followers of Christ. We are His Body and are drawn, somehow, into His own sufferings. We are even "crucified" with Him.
My own tradition stressed this, but it was taught as a metaphor that meant only the putting to death of sin in our members. There was very little said about the sense in which Christ draws His Body into His very self-giving for the life of the world and makes them part of this mystery. Saint Paul uses extravagant language about his own filling up "that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ." We had succinct enough explanations as to what he might have meant here, but these explanations allowed no room for any notion of our participating in Christ's offering. This was looked upon as heresy, violating the doctrine of grace .n which all is done by God and nothing by us. We are recipients only. That the gracious donation of salvation by God could in any manner include His making us a part of it all, as He made the Virgin Mary an actual part of the process, and as Saint Paul seems to teach, was not the note struck.
The ancient Church, in its observance of Lent, once more asks us to move through the gospel with Christ Himself. The most obvious mark of Lent to a newcomer is the matter of fasting. I had own about this practice all my life. My Catholic playmates would give up chocolates or Coke or ice cream for Lent. I also knew that a few devout people in my own tradition of evangelicalism practiced fasting now and again for special purposes—a time of especially concentrated prayer, for example.
I myself thought of Lenten fasting and also of the old Catholic practice of refusing meat on Fridays as being legalistic, and perhaps even heretical, since it seemed to entail some notion of accruing merit. Since Christ had done all, why should we flagellate ourselves this way? Was it not a return to the weak and beggarly elements condemned by Saint Paul? Was it not to be guilty of the very thing that the apostle had a sailed the Galatian Christians for?