Dear Friends,

What are you giving up for Lent? Giving up things for Lent is, of course, a matter of personal choice and not a requirement of our Reformed faith. The story of how the practise of giving up things we enjoy, (e.g. abstaining from meat) during Lent ceased to be mandatory in the Reformed Tradition has an interesting history and it all stems from a famous, “Sausage Supper!!”

In Zurich, Switzerland in 1532, the local printer, Christopher Froschauer, had been having a busy time printing a new edition of St Paul’s Epistles. He wanted to reward his hard working employees and so he treated them to a sausage supper. He also invited Ulrich Zwingli who was the priest at the Grossmunster (Great Church) in the city. The only problem was, it was a Friday and it was in Lent – two reasons why the eating of sausages or indeed any meat was forbidden according to the dictates of the Church. Although it is recorded that Zwingli didn’t eat the sausages himself the fact that he was a Roman Catholic priest (at the time) just being there effectively giving his blessing to others eating meat was a grave breach of Church law.

During the supper, Zwingli had an “Epiphany” moment. Nowhere in scripture, Zwingli realised, was there any restriction to eating meat in Lent or even any mention of Lent itself. He saw that it was the Church that had imposed these rules and not the Lord. The Church, it dawned on Zwingli, (as it had done earlier to Martin Luther in Germany), had erected a barrier of regulations round the Gospel by making men and women believe they had to earn God’s favour instead of preaching the truth that God’s gracious love in Christ is freely given. After the supper, Zwingli invited the printers to decant to the Grossmunster where he preached a sermon entitled, “On the choice and freedom of foods.” He took as his text Jesus’ words found in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me – for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Zwingli, who had been a Roman Catholic priest most of his life, made the marvellous discovery of the liberating power of the Word of God. A swift change came to the city, within a year the City Fathers voted to embrace Zwingli’s new ideas about religion and so Zurich became a Reformed city and in due course so did Basle and Geneva. The Swiss Reformation had taken off contemporaneously but independently of Luther’s Reformation in Germany. It was from the Swiss rather than the Lutheran reforms that our own United Reformed Church eventually evolved.

Don’t let me stop you giving up chocolate and such like during Lent if you really want to but I ask the question – “What are you taking up for Lent?” I always think taking up a good habit is a better option.

Three suggestions I offer –

  • Perhaps you might think of attending the Zoom Lent Bible Studies. 
  • Continue to support Fairtrade Fortnight which takes in the early part of Lent. (up to 6th March) There is plenty of Fairtrade chocolate for sale that you can save till after Easter – if you do decide to give it up!!
  • Consider participating in the Christian Aid Lent initiative, “Count Your Blessings.” (see the Christian Aid website)

Whatever you give up or take up in Lent I trust it will be a time of spiritual refreshment for us all as we journey towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday.