When I was a kid growing up Catholic, my family observed Lent.
For the uninitiated, Lent is a six week season leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It was supposed to be a time of contemplation, of self-denial and sacrifice, as we stepped closer and closer to the most important time in the Christian calendar.
My parents would buy fish and chips … giving up red meat on Friday and instead, having fish. Of course, to a young kid, this was no sacrifice.
In the spirit of this sacrificial season, every Friday during Lent (and especially on Good Friday) my parents would buy fish and chips for dinner. The idea was that we were giving up red meat on Friday and instead, having fish.
Of course, to a young kid, this was no sacrifice … It was a treat! I mean, how could you compare a pile of salty deep-fried deliciousness to the usual grilled steak and over-boiled veggies? If that’s self-denial, then give me my cross and sign me up! The true symbolism of “giving up” for Lent was lost on me and there was absolutely no sacrifice on my part.
Eventually, by God’s mercy, I came to know the gospel and over the years—though I now no longer observe Lent—I have grown to have a deeper understanding of the Good Friday that Lent was supposed to prepare me for. Now, many years later, as I reflect on my family’s fish and chips tradition, I have come to appreciate that was actually a perfect illustration of what happens in the gospel.
Good Friday is not in fact a day where we give something up. It’s a day when we receive something. It’s not a day where we make a sacrifice. It’s a day where we remember that a sacrifice was made on our behalf. Jesus took our guilt and the wrath of God that our sins deserve. And we? We are onlookers. We are called to respond to his sacrifice with trust, and repentance and dependent faith. But we do not make the sacrifice. We do not even contribute to Jesus’ sacrifice. It is all his work on our behalf. We simply receive it in gratitude and joy. Like a child being given a plate of salty deep-fried deliciousness that he did not pay for and did not earn.
Good Friday is not in fact a day where we give something up. It’s a day when we receive something.
So whether you observe Lent or not, I encourage you to not treat this season as a time that you have to prepare your soul for the holiness of the Easter weekend. As the old Catholic hymn that I still recall says, “Come as you are”. Or as Jesus himself said when he was asked why he ate with sinners:
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:12-13)
We do not prepare our soul to be acceptable to God. We do not make a sacrifice. We come to God with nothing but our empty hands and repentant hearts. And we hear those delicious words from Romans 5:8:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Lent is not a time to sacrifice. Sure, give up chocolate or smoking or Facebook if it helps you reflect on the truth of the gospel. I am making no comment or criticism of fasting in this article. I’m just saying, if you’re going to do something to reflect on the gospel as Good Friday approaches, make sure you really reflect on the gospel. The gospel that declares that the great sacrifice that brings us to God has already been done for us. It is what makes Good Friday so good.
So come as you are, grab a plate and pass the chicken salt, and “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
First published at simoncamilleri.com