Today (Ash Wednesday) I heard a homily in which the preacher said that there was no point giving something up for Lent if we were simply going to gorge ourselves on it on Easter afternoon. The point, the preacher continued, was to use Lent as the occasion to make a permanent change for the better in our lives, and that if we keep doing this God will over time come to have a more central place in our lives.
Perhaps I am simply an incurable hedonist, but something about this approach struck me as profoundly wrong (and ever-so-slightly Pelagian). New Year’s resolutions are the occasion for giving up bad things; Lent is for giving up good things so that we can come to appreciate more deeply the God who is the source of all good things. The point of fasting is not moral or even spiritual improvement, but rather the self denial that will make it possible for us truly to feast when the fast has ended. The pattern of fast and feast is a sign-act of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the restoration of that which we have denied ourselves for 40 days gives us a glimpse of the joy that Christ’s followers felt on Easter. So when our our fast is ended, let us by all means gorge ourselves with Easter joy.