Bill Leonard on Dangerous Lent

Bill Leonard

Bill Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies at the School of Divinity, Wake Forest University. I had the privilege of meeting him once in Bucharest, during a research conference, and I was impressed with his humility and his academic competence.

In the latest column he published on the ABP website, he deals with the topic of Lent, one that is usual for people belonging to the Baptist tradition, be that a non-fundamentalist one.

Bill writes:

In my Baptist upbringing we didn’t pay much attention to Lent. Ash Wednesday, for example, was just another prayer meeting night. Yet, we did not disregard the classic Christian struggles — repentance, confession, humility, mortality — that bubble up during the Lenten season.

Rather, they overtook us at seasonal revivals, when sinners saved and unsaved were called to conversion, repentance and renewal. People got saved “hard” at those revivals — “testifying” to all sorts of sins, omitted and committed, that had weighed them down and held grace at bay far too long.

It was not until I attended Texas Wesleyan University that Lent entered my liturgical radar, carrying me along that paradoxical path that winds through Golgotha to Good Friday. The Methodists knew Lent as an annual reminder that even those who claim to be “in Christ” are at once lost and found, repentant and without remorse. Martin Luther said it well: we are each one of us, simul justus et piccator, simultaneously just and sinful, every day, all our days.

The Methodists, especially my great mentor and first religion professor Alice Wonders, taught me something else: Lent is a dangerous season that calls us to acknowledge the shadow side of our humanity — our arrogance, insensitivity and abiding narcissism.

It also compels us to confront the incurable disease, the inescapable tragedy, the unanticipated emergency and the immediate fact that “death is ever before us.”

Lent forces us to confront the “hard sayings” of the Bible, ancient insights into the way God apparently sees things, promotes virtue and demands obedience of those who dare to claim the Spirit.

Lent drags us into a moral and spiritual wilderness that we’d just as soon avoid. It points us toward an inward and spiritual grace that is itself comforting and disturbing. At its best, Lent is dangerous territory of spirituality and action.

In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day said the Catholic Worker Movement that she helped found began because: “We felt a respect for the poor and destitute as those nearest to God, as those chosen by Christ for his compassion. [Because] Christ had lived among them.”

Jesus’ life with, among, the poor calls and judges us, especially during Lent.

You may read HERE Bill’s entire article.






Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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