Choosing A Lenten Sacrifice

Choosing A Lenten Sacrifice

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I’ve been reflecting on a news segment from a few years ago in which reporters interviewed restaurant owners about “meat-like” options for people who practice the ritual of avoiding meat on Fridays during Lent. I have no doubt that the foods reporters sampled were delicious and provide exactly what some people seek. Years later, though, I remain a bit perplexed by the segment.

The featured items help people stick to their commitment to avoid meat while ensuring they still experience the pleasure of meat from other substances. Is this, I wondered, a focus on the technicality of sacrifice while avoiding the spirit of it? Is it possible that this misses the point?

Lent, which begins Wednesday, is the 40-day period that leads to Easter. Considered a season of reflection and preparation for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is one of the most important liturgical seasons in the Christian year. Lent replicates the 40-days Jesus spent in the desert, and many Christians fast from food or a favorite activity in reflection of Jesus’ privation in the wilderness and as a test of self-discipline.

Is it a great test of self-discipline to replace something we love (such as meat) with something the seems like that same thing (the meat-like substance)? And while I respect and support those who find it meaningful to engage in sacrifice during this season, that isn’t the way that I choose to demonstrate my faith.

I reflect, instead, on the words of Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7) Perhaps, then, instead of giving up something, we can take some new action that helps the hungry, homeless, and naked, something that looses the bonds of injustice. We could donate to a charity – or make a special, sacrificial donation to our local congregation, the Southern New England Conference, or the United Church of Christ. We could spend some time working on the campaign to ensure voting rights for all, or on any number of other causes. Are these not the fasts we could choose?

March also is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”  According to the National Women’s History Alliance, this theme is “both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.”

Perhaps we can be faithful to both the Lenten season and this theme by working to improve the lives of women. Perhaps we can work for pay equality. Maybe we can take seriously complaints of sexual exploitation, rape, and abuse. Perchance we can remove barriers to the education of girls or address the high rates at which African American girls are disciplined, suspended, and expelled from school, beginning as early as kindergarten. We might even get serious about eradicating violence against women of Asian descent and the alarming number of murders of transgender women of color.

This is a fast in which we all can participate – and from which we can all benefit. This is a fast that can help us change the world. It can remind us, I believe, of the work and sacrifice of the Christ. It can contribute to our own transformation.

Shall we choose this fast together?

Now, beloved, I pray that you will find peace and joy amid all that is happening in our lives and world and during our preparation for the crucifixion and, ultimately, the resurrection of the Christ. May we all be drawn closer to one another, to those with whom we partner in our ministry communities, and, finally, to God.

Blessings and Power,
Rev. James D. Ross II

Author

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James D. Ross II

Rev. Ross is the Minister for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Southern New England Conference UCC.

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