"Whatcha gonna give up for Lent?" I remember classmates asking one another years ago. "Cartoons." "Gum." "Fightin' with my little brother."
I always said I was giving up chocolate for Lent. But I always broke that promise — after all, Girl Scout cookies came around in early spring too. Oh well.
For my classmates and me, Lent meant giving up a small treat or minor bad habit for some reason we didn't quite understand. One or two of us who had paid attention in Sunday school might have mumbled something about repentance, not that we understood much about that either.
Thirty years later, I finally got Lent.
I had joined the choir of a congregation that treated Lent as a season of preparation for baptism — both for the dozen or so adults who would be baptized at the Easter Vigil and for the rest of the community who accompanied them on their journey to the font. Veteran choristers warned me that singing the Triduum (the evening services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) was a real marathon and we had to pace ourselves so we could be at our best for the Vigil. "OK," I thought. "This is new; it should be interesting."
It changed my life. By the time the candidates were called, one by one, to the waters of the font late Saturday night, I was so filled with joy and gratitude that I could hardly breathe, let alone sing. I swore I would never miss another Triduum, and I haven't.
Living Lent with baptism in mind has transformed my Lenten disciplines too. My practices are now about deepening my ability to serve as a better, wiser, holier companion along someone's journey to the font.
One way to do that is to take on the ancient Lenten traditions of praying, fasting and almsgiving. Another way is to renew the promises that were made at our baptisms: to live among God's faithful people; to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's Supper; to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in word and deed; to serve all people, following the example of Jesus; and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
Every Lent, in gratitude for the gift of baptism and in preparation for accompanying someone on his or her path to baptism, I renew those promises, asking God to help and guide me. And I give heartfelt thanks that nowhere among those promises does anyone mention giving up chocolate.
Try this: Want to experience a weekend Lenten retreat built around seven faith practices based on our baptismal promises? The free ELCA World Hunger resource "Act 2Day 4Tomorrow" is designed for youth, but leaders can easily adapt it for any group.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers