CLERGY CORNER: Joy in discipline

Posted on 15 February 2018 by LeslieM

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 1He was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

(Mark 1:12-13 NRSV)

The 40 days of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. This is a season when we are encouraged either to give up something decadent or start something healthy. I have always found Lent to be a joyous time even during the struggle. In our resistance, we are reminded why … it is because of God. And when I crave something decadent, I am forced to think about God. And let’s say, during Lent, I think about God a lot.

My son and daughter came back from Youth Group with a burning question. While Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Sundays are not factored into the 40 days. Therefore, do Sundays count?

And, if Sundays don’t count, would it be OK for us to break our pledge? My kids deducted that there is a loophole in Lent. My daughter gave up chocolate during Lent, but if the Lenten Loophole allows, maybe she could have a candy bar on Sundays. My son gave up pizza during Lent, but maybe Sunday would be a day where he could enjoy a cheesy slice of heaven.

I don’t think I had a great answer. But I did ask them the question: “What does your conscience tell you?” They both seemed disappointed. They made the right choice. Maybe my answer wasn’t that bad after all. But that wasn’t the only time I was confronted with the “Lenten Loophole.”

A choir director who served in a church I once served did not like Lent because she found it to be, in her words, depressing. We omitted the word “alleluia” from worship during Lent and would bring it out during Easter really giving that word a new and special meaning.

In the meantime, in an effort to find happy and uplifting music without the word alleluia, she found music that was a little quieter and more contemplative and, in her words, she found that music depressing.

Can we sing this song?” she asked as she handed me a piece of music riddled with the word “alleluia.” I told her no, for obvious reasons. She said “But, Sundays don’t count during Lent.”

Truthfully, this started a great conversation. We talked about the value of being quiet and contemplative. We talked about the traditions that most people brought with them to Florida, namely, observing Sunday as a part of Lent. And we found some music that was happy and uplifting that didn’t include the specific word “alleluia.” I think we both grew from this conversation.

Before I go any further I want to make it clear, Sundays do count during Lent. Easter is a moveable feast but always lands on a Sunday. Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast but always lands on a Wednesday. Omitting Sundays from the 40 days is a matter of Math, not a matter of Faith.

But I think the bigger issue is loopholes. What do we gain by looking for an escape clause? What benefit do we receive when we are given permission to cheat? And, ultimately, who are we cheating? Who are we kidding?

There is joy in discipline. When we resist temptation, we find ourselves stopping, pausing and reflecting on why. The why is God and the moment of contemplation is a moment of joy. I look at Lent less as an obligation and more as an opportunity. And, when I confront a day or more over and above the 40, I embrace this as yet one more opportunity.

What do we find in a loophole? We find empty space. At best, we experience a delicious moment that disappears and leaves us unsatisfied. We may even find disappointment. But we will not find joy.

Joy is hard to come by. But Lent is God’s gift to those of us who seek joy. Have a blessed and joyous Lent.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit

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