By Pastor Larry Booth
Congregational Church, Grant
On the calendar, it’s the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic and Eastern churches, and by some Protestant churches, as Lent, a special period of penitence, fasting, and various other spiritual and religious practices. It was patterned after the 40 days Jesus spent in the ‘wilderness’ after his baptism, and just before he began his public ministry. Historically, for the Church, it was a time of preparing people for baptism and church membership.
The first I knew about Lent (as a little Protestant boy) was hearing my older cousins, devout Catholics, asking, “What are you giving up for Lent?” They told me that meant they were supposed to make a sacrifice of something they really liked during Lent–a sacrifice to God to make them better Christians.
Some of the things they talked about sacrificing, though, didn’t sound much like a sacrifice to me–like something they didn’t like or wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do anyway! But even joking about it, I knew it was important to them.
I never heard about such things in my church, so I didn’t know how that connected up with my being a Christian. But one year, about this ‘giving-up for Lent’ time of year, in Sunday School we had a lesson about a man named Abraham, a great man of God. God told him to take his young son, Isaac, and go up on a high mountain and make a sacrifice to God.
They packed for the trip. And when they got to the place God led them, and Abraham had cut wood for the sacrificial fire, God told him to lay Isaac on the altar... he was to be the sacrifice! Incredulously, Abraham did so, and was raising the knife over Isaac’s throat when God spoke again. “Abraham! Don’t harm the boy! Turn him loose!” (It’s in the Book!)
I always thought it must have been with tears of joy that Abraham threw the knife aside and grabbed Isaac from the wood-pile altar and held him desperately to his breast and was squeezing tight when God spoke again, more softly: “Abraham, there’s another lamb, caught in the thicket. Sacrifice it.”
At that altar, then, God reminded Abraham, and Isaac, of God’s first promise to Abraham, when he first became God’s Person: “Leave all you have; go to a land I will show you. I will make of your family a great people, and by you, all people of the earth shall bless themselves.”
I didn’t understand most of this then. And I can’t claim to even now. But one thing I did see... that sacrifice was not something we need to give or do to God. God doesn’t need it. We do. And what it is, is something to get our attention! And keep it!
God had called Abraham to a great life task. After that mountain, do you suppose he ever forgot! And if we could ask him, how do you think he might answer... “what did you give up for Lent?”