Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cupcakes for Lent.

It was just one cupcake. 

It wasn't even a good cupcake. It was a grocery store cupcake--prepackaged--and as I licked the buttercream icing off the plastic basketball decoration, I felt the twinge of shame. As I wiped the buttercream icing off of my nose and licked it off my finger, the twinge turned into a tidal wave.

It was only a few days after Ash Wednesday, and already I was failing at Lent--failing hard. 

Our house was bedecked in purple and green for my roommates's Ninja Turtles birthday party. Our dining room was filled with friends, and our table was filled with treats. I knew from the second I laid eyes on those cupcakes that I was a goner. It wasn't even a fight. Just days earlier, I had vowed to give up sweets for Lent...but these had basketballs...and buttercream.

I polished off the cupcake in three bites, like a ravenous hyena. I wasn't even all that hungry. Just minutes earlier, I'd eaten four slices of pizza. No, I wasn't hungry. I saw the cupcake. I wanted the cupcake. I ate the cupcake.

Then I saw the cookies. I wanted a cookie. I ate the cookie. Then I ate another cookie.

And so went my Saturday evening. 

As I got ready for bed that night, I thought about the approaching Sabbath. Sundays are always feast days, even during Lent. They are days when we break our fasts and keep the feast as we celebrate our risen Savior. But as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I decided that I hadn't earned the next day's Sabbath feast. That cupcake haunted me...symbolizing my shame.

It seemed simple, really. I had fallen off the Lent wagon, sure, but if I just kept my fast on Sunday, it would make up for my failure. I'd be all caught up and ready to go for the following week. The math added up, and my conscience was eased...for the moment.

As I lay there, I remembered that observance of Lent was not a direct biblical command. I may have been guilty of gluttony, but I wasn't "guilty" of breaking Lent. That wasn't the issue. Perhaps I was actually guilty of using Lent as a means of self-justification or self-improvement...a way to haul myself up the stairway to heaven and show God how devoted I am. That wasn't my goal...not at first. But I'm a self-justification junkie, and it's far too easy to fall back into the habit. 

Maybe it was for the best that I didn't keep Lent perfectly. Maybe it's better for my sanctification that I fall flat on my face, reminded of how weak I really am--how vain and foolish my ideas of self-sanctification really are--reminded how one grocery store cupcake is all it takes to knock me off my highfaultin' hobby horse.

But the problem of Sunday still remained. Would I forgo the feast to make up for my broken fast? The more I thought about it, the more I realized how absolutely backwards that was. This balanced-bank-ledger thinking flowed directly from my secret belief that I can clean myself up and present myself as reasonably pleasing before a holy God.

That's not the way the Sabbath works. Sabbath rest is not our wages for a good week's work. Sure, we all probably have a "working for the weekend" mentality as we go about our lives, but the Sabbath comes on the first day of the week. We can't forget this. Last week's foibles and failures are in the past. Sunday is the fresh start. The rest precedes the work; the feast comes before the fast. That's what sets the Christian gospel apart from all of man's attempts to win favor from heaven. The Christian gospel starts from the presupposition that God's favor cannot be won, even on our best days. Our salvation was won, bought with a price and sealed for eternity, long before we ever made our first decision...long before we made our first mistake...long before we made our first Lenten vow...and long before we ate our first cupcake.

Sunday is a feast day, regardless of the status of your fast. Keeping a perfect Lent doesn't make you any holier, and skipping the Sunday feast doesn't bring you any closer to God. If anything, it pulls you further away from Him as you retreat back to your fantasy world of self-sufficiency. No, observing Lent doesn't make you a better Christian, but it's a pretty good reminder of just how far you fall from the standard. Even if you keep your fast perfectly, you will likely fall short of focusing fully on God and adequately reflecting on your weakness and brokenness. Pride will probably creep in, or distraction, or anxiety, or bitterness, etc. etc. You may even spend a couple hours writing a blog post about Lent instead of spending time in prayer.

But Sundays are still feast days. During Lent, they point us ahead to the Easter feast, the ultimate celebration of Resurrection, and the victory that was won on our behalf. They remind us of the good news that we can't earn our seat at the table of the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We can't earn our seat, because it's already been reserved for us. 

So even if you broke your fast yesterday, my friends, feast today. Feast boldly. 

Even if you wolfed down a grocery-store cupcake on Saturday, savor the rich and delicious wedding cake of the gospel on Sunday. 

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