Well, this is my very first participation in the Lent tradition. And no doubt, for those who know me, a dose of self-denial in solidarity with Jesus and my fellow Christian sisters and brothers will certainly do this renowned “glutton and winebibber” some genuine good. But what, in particular, do I refrain from? Of course, alcohol (i.e. margaritas) or social media (i.e. Facebook) or sweets (*shudders*) would be a good place for me to begin. But, as fellow blogger Mark Sandlin recently noted, to give up these particular items, for me (they may be perfectly suited for someone else), is tantamount to Christianized New Year’s resolutions, a sort of second-chance to make good on my otherwise failed resolutions at the start of 2014.
You see, whatever it was going to be, it needed to have greater symbolic mileage and positive influence on the world than something like simply refraining from yummy goodies and tasty alcoholic beverages. So, after several days of reflection, I decided upon three theological criteria to help me along in my selection:
1. Christological: that is, in solidarity with Jesus.
2. Eschatological: or having to do with God’s grand future bearing down in the present.
3. Creational: in affirmation of our human responsibility to steward God’s good world.
With these guidelines in place it became obvious fairly quickly. I would need to give up meat for Lent, that is, I would abstain from the flesh of any animal whatsoever. Now, giving up meat for Lent is nothing new, only, I wanted to add theological-depth which can often be lacking with this particular choice. Let me spell this out in more detail using our three themes above:
Though St. Paul exercised his apostolic ministry some time after Jesus’ death and resurrection (roughly two decades), he nevertheless desired to participate in the historical sufferings of his Master. In some profound sense, then, Jesus’ past sufferings can be transposed into the present life of the believer; just as the historical Jesus, in an even more profound sense, participated in our human frailty.
Giving up meat, then, or any other food for that matter, can be understood as a participation in Christ’s own fasting, the moment when, for forty days, and unlike Israel of old, he devoted himself entirely to God’s will. Remember, Jesus’ abstaining here must not be viewed as a dualistic denial of the material goodness of creation, but rather the disciplined putting of food in its proper relation to God. ”God the Father before and above the god of belly!”—is a much needed lesson we westerns need to learn since our lives are often ordered around food rather than the kingdom of God and its establishment.
The “end” of the world in Scripture is not its material dissolution, but its total renewal. Moreover, the “end” or telos (Greek for “goal” or “purpose”) of the world of space-time was not something in a distant and detached future, but was inaugurated amid the present order; what some theologians refer to as “inaugurated eschatology.” Because of Christ’s arrival God’s future world of forgiveness, reconciliation, and total harmony could be enjoyed and practiced in the present. And because salvation was to be cosmic in scope, this included even the animals; “The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them.”
And though we shouldn’t press the imagery too far, we can affirm its basic point: that even the animal kingdom will be impacted positively under the rule of Messiah. And because the people of the Messiah are charged with bringing God’s future to the present, the often dehumanized ways we treat animals of consumption should be transformed to reflect the scope of our redemption (to be made into the image of Christ is to become more human, not less) in Christ. In fact, the incarnation (and the resurrection) is God’s complete self-affirmation of the created order and is reflective of his desire to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ.
A refusal to allow the full scope of redemption to reshape our treatment of animals reveals just how dualistic modern western Christianity still is. We need to let the incarnation (God’s affirmation of creation through the embodiment of the second member of the Trinity) have its way with everything from our buying practices, our policies for the kind treatment of animals (even those that will be eventually used for human consumption), and the total amount of meat we consume (Sabbath).
This, of course, is closely tied to the point above. If ‘eschatology’ has to do with “time” then ‘creational’ has to do with “space.” It is simply making the point that God’s future is not disembodied and immaterial, but creational—encompassing “all things on heaven and earth.” Jesus’ bodily resurrection is not only the “first fruits” of the general resurrection, but of the restoration of the whole creation which is currently in suspenseful anticipation for that day. N.T. Wright discussing the end of the fifteenth-chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 writes:
The ‘here and now’ is where Paul ends up. You might think, after a spectacular chapter like this one, that he would conclude by saying something like, ‘So let’s rejoice at the wonderful hope we can look forward to!’ But he doesn’t. And this isn’t just because he is a solid and sober practical theologian, true though that is. It’s because the truth he has been expounding, the truth of the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the living, is not just a truth about the future hope. It’s a truth about the present significance of what we are and do. If it is true that God is going to transform this present world, and renew our whole selves, bodies included, then what we do in the present time with our bodies, and with our world, matters. For far too long many Christians have been content to separate out future hope from present responsibility, but that is precisely what Paul refuses to do. His full-bodied doctrine and promise of resurrection sends us back to our present world, and our present life of bodily obedience to our Lord, in the glorious but sobering knowledge that, if there is continuity between who and what we are in the present and who and what we will be in the future, we cannot discount the present life, the present body and the present world as irrelevant.
Won’t you, then, join me this Lent in bringing God’s glorious and all-encompassing future into this present world as we act in solidarity with our Crucified King by denying ourselves animal flesh as he did following his baptism? We are, after all, created to be the regal caretakers of creation, not its cruel savages. Moreover, we are summoned to be the very place where God’s love reaches out to envelope all of creation and where creation’s inarticulate praise and wonder are given human expression in worship and thanksgiving back to God. Let new creation begin!
 Isaiah 11:6, The Message.
 It was the Greeks, not the Jews or early Christians, who viewed the material world as something to be devalued.
 N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), pg. 227-228.