Professor Steve Sherwood and Assistant Pastor Jamie Johnson share some of their thoughts on the the season of Lent and the importance it holds for them.
Q: What significance does Lent hold for you?
Jamie: I grew up in the Quaker church, and I do not have a single memory of ever talking about Lent or even knowing what it was. In Seminary, we attended an Episcopal church, and I was introduced to liturgy for the first time ever – it was beautiful! It was here I was introduced to this idea of Lent, and though I though it was a cool idea, I thought it was too much like I was giving up something just to show how disciplined (or not!) I could be.
But as I have come to learn more about it, and have tried to incorporate spiritual disciplines in my life more regularly, I am learning the significance of it for the Christian community and for me. For me it is about recognizing my need for Jesus, something I too easily neglect. If I give up something like Facebook, then every time I find myself wanting to log on to Facebook (which is often!) I am reminded, during this season, that I need Jesus. Anything that reminds me of my need for Jesus is a good thing worth practicing, in my opinion!
Steve: Starting with an Ash Wednesday service put on at my very Protestant, very conservative Christian college 30 years ago, Lent has come to be very important to me. The idea that Good Friday/Easter takes on more significance if we spend significant time in the weeks before considering our brokenness and need for the cross and resurrection really resonates with me.
I don’t think there is anything magical that happens in “giving something up for lent,” but in doing something difficult, giving something up that daily I crave (candy, ice cream, diet coke, the internet, whatever it is that year) serves as a daily reminder of my weakness and need for Jesus.
Q: What is the importance of Lent?
Jamie: Lent reminds us of our need for Jesus, plain and simple. And when the community joins in and we all express our need for Jesus, it is an even more beautiful thing. It also connects us to the past and places us in a broader conversation – this is not something we are making up, but something that followers of Jesus have been doing for centuries.
Steve: Most Protestants, except for Anglicans and Lutherans, I suspect, don’t grow up with much appreciation for the rhythms of the Christian Year (Advent, Christmas, Lent, etc.). Before the Reformation, and before most people could read, most Christian instruction had a more symbolic, repetitive rhythm to it.
I don’t think Christians need to feel like they must participate in the annual seasons of Advent, or Lent, but I think we miss out on profound ways God can speak to us if we never participate in them. Also, personally, I find real beauty in taking part in practices that Christians have been doing for almost 2000 years.
Q: Lent is commonly associated with Catholicism. Why should Protestant Christians practice Lent?
Jamie: The short answer is, we all need to be reminded of our need for Jesus, and one of the best ways to do that is to either remove some creature comfort from our life or add in some type of spiritual discipline or practice to get beyond ourselves.
Let’s not forget – the earliest Christians were catholic – and the Christian church for around 1,000 years was Catholic. So these “Catholic” practices are not anti-Christian, but a part of the larger story of how God has moved in the world and is moving in the world. I generally believe that practices which unite us to other Christ-followers throughout the world ought to be practiced in some form or another.
Steve: Why should Protestants participate in Lent? If Lent is a season that has helped form and shape Christians for literally millennia, why would we not want to participate in it? Our brothers and sisters in the Catholic church certainly aren’t perfect, and we shouldn’t feel like Protestants need to emulate everything in Catholic practice, but, I believe Protestants do themselves a huge disservice when they distance themselves from all kinds of beautiful faith practices because ‘those are things Catholics do.’