The story is told of the old man who used to come into an Irish pub in Dublin, Ireland, sit by himself at a table in the corner, and order three beers. (For those who prefer, please substitute a fast-food restaurant and diet drinks!)
He did this for months on end. Finally the bartender inquired as to the rationale for coming in by himself and ordering three drinks rather than one. The man responded that his two brothers were out of the country and they had agreed that every night they would each go into a bar and drink three drinks, one for each of them, until they were able to return and do it all in person.
So his nightly ritual was in honor of the brothers three.
Then one evening he came in and only ordered two drinks. Everything else was as it always had been. This continued for several nights before the bartender again approached him to express his condolences over the loss of one of the man’s brothers.
“Oh, don’t be grieving for me,” he said. “Both my brothers are alive and doing very well. It’s just that I’ve decided to give up alcohol for Lent!”
All kidding aside, this week in the church year begins the season commonly called Lent.
Even though we often make light of giving things up for Lent, this season is one of the most serious times of the church’s liturgical year. It is the period of 40 days set aside as a period of repentance for spiritual preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday, the traditional day of repentance, and continuing until Easter.
As early as 200 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians began to set aside 40 hours before Easter to fast as preparation for the feast of Easter. Later, the time was extended to seven days, known as Holy Week. By AD 325, the church officially set aside 40 days before Easter as a season of repentance and special spiritual devotion.
These days, I cannot think of Lent without being drawn to the Gospel account of Jesus and His disciples entering the land of the Gadarenes, where Jesus encountered a man possessed by evil spirits.
In this account, Jesus ends up casting the demons into a herd of swine, which then runs off the edge of a cliff to be drowned in the sea.
This story is a familiar one to anyone who has grown up in Sunday School at all, but you may be wondering how this particular incident in the life of Jesus reminds us of Lent.
There are some observations to make about this event. One, it is one of the very few encounters where you see Jesus actually conversing with an evil spirit. Two, the account seems to demonstrate the patience that Jesus himself exhibited towards all who came to him. And three, once again Jesus responds to a situation in a completely unpredictable way.
Jesus and His disciples had come over into this country for a weekend getaway of sorts. They had just been through one of the greatest tests of their faith in a long time, having gone through a violent storm out on the sea, the area where they were the most skilled at getting through.
Jesus had responded in a most unpredictable way. These disciples found themselves completely dependent upon the word of the Master. And now they get to the other side of the lake, in this foreign country, where they had planned to just simply rest for a while, and they are accosted by this man in chains who is controlled by evil spirits.
And Jesus responds in a most unpredictable way! He enters into a conversation with that evil spirit, and even takes the advice from the spirit and casts it into that herd of pigs!
The question that God wants you and me to ask and answer during this Lenten season is pretty simple: How will you answer God when He surprises you? Are you looking for Him? Or are you hoping you won’t find Him?
Would God be pleased with your heart attitude during this seasonal and yearly time of reflection and recommitment?
God loves you, and will wait for you. He will not force Himself upon you. He will be patient with you.
And no doubt, He WILL surprise you right where you are! And God wants YOU to renew your relationship with Him.
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.