19th February, 2021
Continuity and Change
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. Romans 14:5-6
The mention of Lent evokes mixed responses. Some Christians vehemently deny the observance while others advocate its merits. Those that deny its relevance often see it as a highly traditional and ritualistic observance which cannot find place in a dynamic and spirit-filled church, and hence the need for change. Those that see beauty in the observance of Lent perceive it as continuity – a tradition handed down to the church over generations. When one is embraced at the expense of another an imbalance is created. While many hesitate at the thought of embracing church traditions, others emphasize them so much that they lose contextual relevance to the needs of the church members.
Those of us who are not constrained to specific yearly period of fast and find it more freeing to pray any time of the year, do so, as Paul said, “…to the Lord.” Those of us that feel that the period of Lent is inextricably linked to a season in the church calendar, also do so, “…to the Lord.”
Maximos, the Confessor, a saint of the Church, said: “Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for which they are done. For example, fasting and vigils, prayer, and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.”
What St. Maximos intended to direct our focus was on the very thing that Jesus often emphasized – the heart and its motives. Whether we seek to hold on to continuity of traditions, or endeavour towards change in doing church, we are reminded by St. Maximos that motives matter.
Lent offers us a designated period of time not only for fasting but to also to remember the temptation, passion, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It prepares our minds and hearts to focus on the eternal. As the pandemic continues to rage on, millions of lives have been lost and affected. Climate change and its impact is also seen globally. While the creation groans (Romans 8:22) it may be an apt time to fast, repent, and cry out for God’s mercy upon the world.
So, whether we hold on to continuity or embrace change, whether we love our church traditions or are critical of it, the season of Lent can still find its place in our churches and families. After all it is not the relevance of the season of Lent that is at stake here, instead it is the beauty of finding ourselves clothed in ‘sackcloth and ashes’ and returning to our Master – whose sweet call beckons us to respite, reflection and revival – that we can joyfully embrace, and do it as “…to the Lord.”
Rev. Abhishek John