Why Sundays Don’t Count During Lent

The Sabbath is a feast day and a free pass from your Lenten discipline.

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Sundays don't count for discipline during Lent.

I don’t believe in actually telling people what I give up for Lent because that might sound like bragging, and the whole point of any spiritual discipline is to do it in secret and not lord it about to impress people, or as Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them…” So you’ll have to forgive me for being oblique in this little story:

One Sunday in Lent we were dining with friends and the thing I gave up eating/drinking/thinking about was served, and I looked with despair at my plate/bowl/glass and only took comfort in knowing that a friend at the table had given up the same thing. But when she dug in and ate/drank the foresworn thing, I exclaimed, “Wait, didn’t you give that up too?” (Blowing her cover as well as mine).

“It’s Sunday,” she exclaimed. “You get Sunday off.”

It’s true. Sundays don’t count for any Lenten discipline. Sunday is the Sabbath. Sunday is a feast day. Sunday is the day we celebrate the Resurrection no matter what season. You can take Sundays off.

Some of this is just a matter of arithmetic. At Lent we honor the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, praying and fasting, and if you count 40 from Ash Wednesday to Easter you have to skip the Sundays. They are not included.

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But those are just numbers. Here’s a better way to look at it. A Lenten discipline is not like a New Year’s resolution. It’s not some sort of good habit that you expect to stick to for the rest of your life. You might want to, you might wish to, but that’s not the point.

A Lenten discipline is just a wilderness moment you’re giving yourself. After all, Jesus did not continue fasting after his 40 days. He broke bread and ate with his disciples. He changed water into wine. He was not a dour locusts-and-honey guy.

The way I look at it, renunciation is something we do for only a season. We can learn a lot from it. It has its spiritual gifts. Every time you reach for that thing–or that thought–you gave up, you can remind yourself that you want to follow in Jesus’s footsteps. You want to be just a little bit more like Him. You want to walk in the wilderness like he did. You want to face up to your temptations.

But renunciation is only for a season, even during Lent. It’s only six days a week. Then celebrate on the seventh. The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed. Even if Easter’s not here and the sky is still gray and the lilies haven’t bloomed yet, we are meant to celebrate.

You get a free pass every Sunday in Lent. Take it.

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