Let me begin this column with a brief introduction of myself. I am the “new” pastor at West Berlin Presbyterian Church at 2911 Berlin Station Road.
I am pleased to have started with the church this past fall. I am one of those second-career pastors. So, after spending many years as an engineering educator, most recently at Ohio State University, I have moved into the role at West Berlin.
Among many things, this new role has me taking a closer look at seasons of the Christian year that, as a parishioner, I experienced but maybe did not explore to the depths I might have.
Lent is certainly one of those seasons. Every year, the 40 days of Lent seem to catch me by surprise. Counting that 40 days before Easter and making sure Ash Wednesday is on my calendar requires discipline!
Of course, the most famous 40 days in the New Testament was the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting.
Lent each year reminds us of Jesus wrestling the temptations to turn away from God. It is interesting to note that in the early church, Lent became the name for the period of 40 weekdays before Easter when those who were Christian converts were being instructed in preparation for church membership to be marked by baptism. The new converts devoted themselves to learning, praying, listening and studying to understand the mysteries of the Christian faith.
As the Christian church moved through history, this 40-day period before Easter became a special time for those who had been baptized as well. It became a time of penitence, a time when you were to examine your live and see what God was saying and what you should be doing. This leads us to the two directives for Lent today. We can ask: 1) What can we give up for Lent? And 2) What can we take on for Lent?
“Giving up” something for Lent has been and continues to be a traditional direction. In earlier days as now, some Christians fast for a certain period, perhaps one day a week. Growing up in a rural, Midwest Presbyterian church, we were not much into the discipline of fasting. But I do remember the perceived hardship of the Friday fish sticks at school. To this day, those do not bring back fond memories.
Yet the goal of “giving up” something, or fasting, is to remind us as faithful Christians that just as Jesus Christ gave up his life for us, so we can show our commitment and dedication to Christ by this act of giving up. It is important to realize that what we give up needs to be something of value towards reminding us of our commitment to God. I remember as a child wanting to give up lima beans; I do not think that really fit the intent.
“Taking on” something for Lent might cause us to ask a ourselves a different type of question. We might ask, what is God calling me to do? Is there something new and different I should be doing, particularly in this period of Lent, as a way of expressing my commitment to Jesus Christ in a new or perhaps fuller way? Are there new directions of service that God is calling towards? Is it new or refreshed disciplines of prayer and devotionals? Are there fresh ways your personal ministry can be carried out? Maybe it is a time to sign up for one of those online daily devotionals that just appear in your email? But it only counts if you actually read them, of course.
Perhaps the remaining weeks of Lent can be an opportunity for you to give up or take on something, or maybe both. We never know where the Holy Spirit can lead us and what new insights and new joys we can experience this Lent.
Robert Gustafson, Engineering
The Ohio State University
Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons
Robert Gustafson is the pastor at West Berlin Presbyterian Church.