John Mark Reynolds is a purveyor of good old ideas. Lent is a good old idea. It’s an idea we can’t control. Reynolds’ emphasis on Lent as an act of submission that we don’t ourselves control is helpful in our imitation of Christ, who himself gave us the perfect example of submission. This shows that while Lent is good and old, it’s not just an idea: it’s a tried and true practice that, when enacted in an individuals’ community life, brings us closer to union with Christ.
The Table: How can the celebration of Lent change us? What is it about ritual and/or Christian liturgical life that transforms people?
Reynolds: If the church is a community, then authentic community is best measured by shared sacrifice. I do not control Lent: I do not decide the fasting rules and do not get to pick the days I fast. Instead, Lent is an act of submission and unity with the historic church, living and dead. Practices have developed over time and as I learn about each discipline, I share with Christians from the first century all the way to the present time.
Pity the man or woman who is under no such authority, but decides everything for self. Lent disciplines me, but it is not about or for me. Coming under authority, the weight of history, is the only way to become fit for the weight of glory.
The Table: How do penance, fasting, and other Lenten disciplines conduce to psychological and spiritual well-being?
Reynolds: Penance, fasting, and other Lenten disciplines are forerunners of death and death is the one event I can be sure my soul and body will experience. When I say “no” to my desires, I prepare for the great denial of self that will happen at the moment of my death. Lent makes me less fit to live in this world, but it is (I have found) excellent preparation for the world to come.
The Table: What do you read during Lent?
Reynolds: Lent calls me to first things and so outside of the reading I do for my job, I concentrate on the Pentateuch as I prepare for the joy of Easter. All the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, but some of it is less frequently read and preached. The Church also gives us daily readings and I try to supersaturate in those Biblical texts—I want to read with the Church of all ages, not just fast with her!
This year, however, I will also be reading Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home—Holy Week & Easter Edition by Lindsay Marshall and Jennifer Snell–a book everyone should try to get a hold of.