shabbat and lent, statue of Jesus

Shabbat and Lent: Religious Intersection

Shabbat shalom, friends.

As we approach sundown on Friday evening, Shabbat, of the first week of Lent, I am struck by the intersection of two great religions. Judaism and Catholicism. Shabbat and Lent.

Jesus lived in the intersection. He walked the holiness and healing of the ancient paths of Judaism. He showed us the sorrows and joy of the way of the cross and kingdom living. His followers of the cross were later called Christians.

My Personal Journey Into Lent

This is the first year I have ever celebrated Lent. Growing up evangelical, my church and family never taught the ways of Lent. They told me that Lent was a tradition of “evil” Catholics who are trying to earn their way to heaven. My heart breaks as I think back on the hateful words of people at my church saying that Catholics “work their way into hell.”

This is wrong. Evangelicals sometimes pride themselves of moving beyond tradition, but there is beauty, and holiness, in religious tradition.

In the last few years, I have been on a spiritual pilgrimage to find truth. God has led me on a fast from earthly success while I discovered depth of spirituality. I found beauty in Jewish holidays and traditions. I found new understanding of Jesus in Catholic mysticism and charity.

The Catholic church dates directly back to Jesus’ disciples, the early church out of which all reformed and evangelical Protestant churches later came. There was holiness in the early church. There is holiness in Catholic religious tradition. There is holiness in Lent. I want to learn more about this.

Holiness of Lent

I knew that my Catholic friends gave up various things for Lent. But Lent is more than self-denial. I am learning about Lent, fasting, and the repentance of excess, especially in a wealthy culture like ours.

Before beginning his ministry, Jesus went through 40 days of fasting. His self-denial of basic needs allowed him to focus on his spiritual needs, and to gain his Father’s heavenly wisdom for the earthly journey. By fasting something for Lent, we too can identify with Jesus and open our hearts in a new way to the provision of the Father.

Jesus talked often about provision. To the crowds, Jesus preached that the Father knows all of our needs and will provide us our daily bread, just as He provides for the lowly sparrows. To his disciples, Jesus told them only to take the clothes on their back for the journey, don’t worry about money, let the Father provide as He led them from town to town.

Many Christians in America today live in a home of plenty with no need to worry about daily bread. They forget their homeless brothers and hungry sisters, hidden away from the eyes of privilege. Lent is a perfect time to focus inwardly on the great riches we take for granted and to renew our hearts to work for a more just society.

During Lent, I want to meditate on how I can be Jesus’ hands and feet to the hurting and downtrodden of my neighborhood, my influence. Can I fast privilege to understand oppression? Do I need to repent from any attitudes or assumptions I hold against those different from me?

Jesus gave up all the privileges and riches of heaven to come to our dirty, poor, fallen human world. What have I ever given up that comes close to this?

Jesus inhabited a land under brutal Roman oppression. He was a great teacher, learned in Torah, and divine in understanding. I am sure he was offered a high Rabbi position in the temple. But he chose to live among the people, to befriend the least of these.

And of course Jesus celebrated Shabbat.

Jesus, Shabbat, and Lent

In my childhood church, I was also taught that all Jews must be converted. Nobody ever talked about the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples. By studying the Bible, I have learned that we gentiles are only grafted into that great Tree of Life. The Jews are the root. Shabbat is holy.

Yahweh gave us Shabbat as a time of rest, a pausing of work to renew our spirits. The Jewish greeting of Shabbat shalom means peace to you on Shabbat. This peace also has a nuance of reconciliation, making peace with any person with whom you hold a grudge.

Shalom. What a beautiful picture of Lent. Jesus came and made peace with a world full of darkness and hatred. Jesus fasted and gave up heaven to die on a cross, to show us the way to the Father’s kingdom.

Shabbat shalom, friends. The peace of the Jewish Sabbath be on you and your house. May the awe of Jesus’ love for us on the cross fill your heart, and repentance and spiritual renewal fill your mind this season of Lent.

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