As a child, our Mennonite church had a few traditions, but Lent was not one of them. Traditionally, Lent was not observed by most Mennonites.
Of course, we would celebrate the children on Palm Sunday. And, Shrove Tuesday was a glorious feast of yeasty home-made donuts. It was Ash Wednesday that started the discomfort. What did those ashes made from last year’s palm branches say about my faithfulness or discipleship?
Historically, Anabaptists have been reluctant to participate in the rituals of Lent. On the first Sunday of Lent in 1522, in Zurich, Switzerland, a gathering of people seeking church renewal challenged the rules of the Lenten fast by eating smoked sausages. This action was a symbolic beginning of the Reformation in Zurich and a precursor to the Anabaptist movement. (To learn more, click here.)
Today, more Mennonite churches are observing the full liturgical calendar, including Lent. My church is one of them. Why now? Why sacrifice? Why fast as part of the Lent season?
I like food, potlucks, fellowship meals, and dessert any place, but definitely in church. But maybe now, Anabaptists are hearing a renewed call to seek God. In this seeking of God, we are called to practice the discipline of surrender and sacrifice. And in doing so, we join others on the path to the cross during Lent.
OK, I can give up donuts.
But, Randolph Haluza-DeLay says, “Giving up donuts is obviously a superficial example,” even if I think of it as a sacrifice.
Maybe sacrifice and surrender mean opening new space for God to work. For example, a Lenten fast may be a social media fast, or giving up one meal a day to use that time to pray, or avoiding a regular leisure activity and instead spending time with a lonely neighbor.
What if I let the drama of Facebook unfold without my participation for 40 days? I fast to reduce my attachments and find space for new ways. What if I use that claimed space for spiritual renewal, prayer, meditation? For me, this is the reason for Lent now.
Fasting is a personal choice. But I welcome the Lenten season’s focus on the life and death of Jesus as I fast. I know that Lent doesn’t end at the cross. Easter Sunday is coming – a time for celebration, singing, sunrise services, and Easter cake.
For we know that –-from Take our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book
God is our only hope,
Feed us from your mouth, that we may see the poor,
Listen to the lonely, and nourish our hungry neighbors
In the strength of your Annointed.