Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. As is our custom, we will be having an Ash Wednesday service Wednesday evening at 7pm at the church building. Please plan to come out for a service of prayers and psalms and meditation as we begin the season of Lent together as a community.
As we begin our celebration of Lent, it would be helpful to outline what it is we are doing and equally important to state what we are NOT doing. Recovering traditions and the rich heritage in the Christian Church is truly a great gift, but we must also recognize that our fathers in the faith have stumbled in various places. Our job is to study and recover the riches and leave behind any of the dross. We also need to recognize what our particular temptations are likely to be as we do so. Surely some of you are completely new to the whole idea of celebrating any seasons of the church calendar, much less Lent.
As with other seasons of the church year, we utilize these times throughout the year to learn from the Scriptures and the wisdom of our fathers in the faith. In particular, we direct our prayers and devotions in a concentrated way toward the spiritual warfare that we are called to wage at all times. Lent is the forty days (not counting Sundays) which lead up to Holy Saturday, the day before Resurrection Sunday. During these weeks, we look back to the repeated themes of trial, testing, and sanctification found in the forty days and forty years motifs throughout Scripture. Ultimately, we look to the faithfulness of Jesus under temptation, we look back to his willingness to suffer for us and for our salvation, and we consider his resolution to accomplish the calling that his Father had put before him.
But Lent should not be thought of as a time to wallow in sins or doubt one’s salvation. Some traditions of the Christian Church have tended toward this, but that is not our intention. Rather, it is an opportunity to be reminded that we have been called to battle, summonsed to take up our crosses and follow our risen Savior as faithful disciples. We do not pretend that Jesus has not risen from the dead, nor do we pretend that we are lost or on the verge of being overwhelmed by sin and death. On the contrary, this season points us to the reality of the cross and resurrection as the only firm reason for believing that we are more than conquerors, that death has been swallowed up in victory, and that we endure all our struggles, battles, and trials for the joy that is set before us. We face the various “wilderness” experiences of our lives fully confident of victory, salvation, and the Promised Land. In this sense, Lent should be celebrated much like Advent. It is a season of preparation and expectation. It is of course fully fitting to add prayers, fasting, and other elements to your celebration of this season as a family. But your celebration should be just that, a celebration, a remembrance of forgiven sin, salvation accomplished, the glorious hope that is ours in Christ, and a renewed committment to follow in the steps of our King. And remember that every Sunday, every Lord’s Day, continues to be a miniature Easter, and if anything, your Sabbath tables should only be more glorious, more joyful, and more festive like a slowly growing roar ready to errupt on Resurrrection Sunday.
As we take upon ourselves the ash of Ash Wednesday and remember that we are ‘but dust and it is to dust that we will return’, we do so with joy and expectation, eagerly awaiting the resurrection of our bodies and the renewal of the entire world. And far from making this life irrelevant, this gives our day to day duties and activies deep and abiding meaning. Your life now, your children, your spouse, your hobbies, and all that you do and say is part of the world that God is remaking and redeeming. We serve the God who constantly spreads a table for us, even in the presence of our enemies, constantly reminding us and assuring us that He rejoices over us as his people and promises to be God for us. And truly, if God is for us, who can be against us?