By Beth Demme
This year there’s a collision of potentially epic proportions between the church calendar and the Hallmark calendar.
You may be one of the millions of Christians facing a monumental dilemma this year.
Perhaps you, too, feel the impossible strain of culture drawing you away from a longstanding and beloved spiritual practice.
Yes, this year Ash Wednesday arrives just days before … Valentine’s Day.
This year we face a clash between the austerity of Lent and the decadence of Valentine’s Day.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. This is a time for fasting and focusing on God. A time to rediscover Sabbath rest. A time to experience freedom from the gluttony that threatens to replace God in our lives.
This year, just days after we enter into our fasting season, we face Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate the romantic love in our life. A time to give and receive flowers or jewelry or chocolate.
[Insert Evil Laugh]
According to at least one site, Americans typically purchase 58 million pounds of chocolate during the week of Valentine’s Day.
What do people typically say they give up for Lent? Chocolate!
[Another Evil Laugh]
For those who want to indulge in some Valentine’s Day chocolate consumption, but still feel virtuous about their Lenten sacrifice, I have good news: Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year!
This is good news because Sundays don’t count in Lent.
Some might call it “The Sunday Escape Clause,” but I promise it’s completely legitimate.
You can observe your Lenten sacrifice six days a week, instead of seven.
I’m not making this up. Lent is intended to be a forty-day period. If you count the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter, you wind up with too many days.
There are 46 days in Lent if you include the Sundays. Guess how many of those 46 days are Sundays? YES! Six of them! If you leave the Sundays out of your Lenten count, you end up with exactly forty days.
Actually, fasting or abstaining on the Sundays of Lent is inappropriate because Sundays are a day of celebration for Christians. Sunday is Resurrection Day!
The United Methodist Church is direct about this. “Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.” In the UMC, “each Sunday [in Lent] represents a ‘mini-Easter’ and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.”
Even though it’s good news for chocolate lovers that Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year, this is no excuse for gluttony, people.
You can have that delicious chocolate from your sweet Valentine, but don’t lose your focus.
Lent reminds us to focus on God.
Lent is a special time to connect with God and (for that, at least) the Sundays of Lent are no exception.
For me, pausing my Lenten routine on Sundays has an important benefit. During the week, I tend to focus on (or maybe, obsess over) what I’m giving up, when really I should be focused on God.
If I didn’t have a break on Sundays during Lent, I might get to Easter completely focused on the magnitude of my sacrifice instead of thinking about Jesus.
Sundays in Lent, and throughout the year, are a reminder of what really matters.
I try to be faithful in my Lenten observance. The Sundays in Lent remind me that my faithfulness is possible only because of God’s faithfulness.
Do you observe Lent? Do you abstain from something or do you add something (like prayer or service)? Do you count Sundays or is that a day of reprieve for you? Tell me about it in the Comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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