I am a front-pew sitter, meaning that I sit up close in church. Primarily I do this to intentionally annoy one of my two teenage kids whenever they have the duty as acolytes (the young person who lights and extinguishes the candles, and helps with Communion). Sitting here allows me little distractions, since all I see is the pastor, the altar, and - in our church - the modernistic cross suspended over the Communion table. And as I was looking at that cross this past Sunday, I thought about the simplicity of Lent.
Lent is the observance of the 40 days before Easter. It is a time when many Christians echo Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Traditionally, Lent is observed and practiced by "giving up" something, be it a guilty pleasure such as alcoholic beverages, or chocolate, or a favorite television show. Some very devout Christians might actually fast, or abstain from food, during this time. (The Lenten tradition stipulates that Sundays - or "Feast Days" - are not included in whatever self-denial one may have taken up for Lent). For me, I've never observed Lent, nor Ash Wednesday. As much as I appreciate certain liturgical aspects of my faith, I feel that trying to emulate Christ by denying things in my life and being penitent during a 40-day period, is actually something God doesn't want us to do. Why just 40 days? Why not do something during Lent that, instead of drawing oneself inward, encourages one to go outward, and to give food to the poor, or visit the shut ins. Why, instead of trying to be pious, why not live life fully and with great joy? So, I don't observe Lent.
But this past Sunday, as I looked at the suspended cross, draped in a deep royal purple sash and ringed with a crown of thorns, all I could think about is the simplicity of Lent. The Gospel lesson was the well-known passage from John, which we can all recite "For God so loved the world.....". But the pastor went on to speak not about THAT passage, but what Jesus said afterwards (and isn't it true, that so often we think of a favorite verse in scripture, but don't think of what follows that amplifies it?). "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved." And the pastor went on in his sermon about how many Christians ignore that, and instead, they preach a gospel of hate, retribution, and exclusion.
The simplicity of Lent to me is that the message of the Gospel is simple - love. It permeates what Jesus did during his time on earth. It permeates the reason God became flesh. It permeates what anyone, who claims allegiance to God and Christ, needs to do each and every day. Love. Once, when Jesus was being tested by the Jewish leaders, he was asked what was the greatest commandment. His response was simple, "Love the Lord God with all your heart, your soul, your mind....And love your neighbor as yourself." He added that on these two commandments hung "the law and the prophets". You see, it really is simple - love. Lent, the message of Christ, is about love. Nothing more, nothing less.