“I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.” —Psalm 26:6-7
The calendar moves on, and we are quickly closing in on my favorite time of the year—Lent. It may seem odd that a time of repentance and fasting would be anyone’s favorite time. What good can come from focusing on our faults for 40 days?
No good can come from us simply looking for all of our faults. It can only bring depression and malaise. But Lent is not a time to focus on our shortcomings, rather it is a time to focus on Christ, and on his sacrifice for us. Then, with an attitude of grateful joy, we look to ourselves and see how we might become more like him. This should be a hopeful time, a time of overflowing gratitude for what Christ has done for us.
I invite you to participate in all of our Lenten opportunities this year. With all of the emotional heaviness we experience in our culture, this season is a great opportunity to stir up our gratitude and our joy.
I specifically want to invite you—yes, you— to come and participate in the Cantata Choir as we meditate through song on the wondrous story.
I know what you’re thinking. Really, I do. It goes something like this, “Me sing? He wouldn’t say that if he heard me. I only sing with the radio in the privacy of my own car, or in the shower.” But here is a little known fact: The level of singing talent required to perform is indirectly proportional to the number of people you have singing with you (It’s the law of averages and simply physics). This means if you can sing “happy birthday” with a group of people, you’re entirely qualified!
This past week I was reading the blog of a friend, and he brought up the difficulty of keeping the Lenten fast. He said,
The things that I choose to give up are proving much more challenging than I anticipated. I actually considered breaking my vow, because I didn’t see the point anymore. I don’t think I’m abstaining out of a love or remembrance of Christ, I think I’m just keeping my word because it makes me feel noble to make a difficult vow and keep it.
I thought about what he said for a while, and would like to share with you my response to him.
We don’t give things up for Lent because we love Jesus so much. We give things up for Lent to, in a miniscule way, identify with Christ’s suffering. He “gave up” His freedom, His life, and His breath. We give up things, exactly because it’s hard to do. In denying ourselves these little things we get a glimpse of how hard it was for the “fully human” nature of the also “fully divine” Son of God to give up something much more significant than chocolate.
God, who breathed the breath of life into the lungs of humanity submitted not only to death, but death on a cross. He could have been stabbed, beaten, crushed, stoned, etc. He could have bled to death, but he didn’t. He died of asphyxiation. The God who breathed life into us, allowed us to deprive him of that breath.
Loving God more doesn’t make it easier to give things up. Giving things up helps you love God more. It is all about identifying with the difficulty. At the end of it, you will find a deeper love, and a deeper appreciation of what Jesus gave up for you.
God is no stranger to pain. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? We forget that He has been there. God has experienced pain, death, rejection, and separation from
those He loves. Each year we take the opportunity to be reminded of the suffering of Christ.
Why is it important that we remember Christ’s suffering anyway? Why can’t we just focus on His teachings? Why can’t we just focus on His positive example and social witness? Just this, Jesus’ social witness and positive example do little for us when someone we love is uprooted, when someone in our family dies, or when we experience sickness or pain in our own bodies. We need more than grand theological concepts of God’s kindness; we need a God who can identify with our pain. How can God expect to understand what we’re going through? He is unchanging, and everything here is always
changing. How can we trust God with our insecurities, fears, and hurts if He has never felt the kind of loss we feel on a regular basis? But that is the story of Lent. God became like us, so that we might become like Him.
This is an amazing mystery.
God, the source of all joy, exposed himself to grief.
God, the source of all life, exposed himself to death.
God, the source of all love, exposed himself to rejection.
God, who binds all things together, exposed himself to separation.
We do not have a God who is ignorant about the emotions that we experience. Rather we have a God who came as a human, to live a human life, with all its pain so that we might have hope. So as we continue in this season of Lent, as we cry our tears for those who we all will miss, let us take heart and remember that our God sees our tears and He cries with us; and let us praise Him for His marvelous acts.
We have returned to this Holy season of Lent. But beyond Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, what is it all about? In earlier times, there were only a handful of times when a new Christian could be baptized, and Easter was one of those times. Lent was a time of preparation for those Catechumens who were about to identify with Christ through baptism. It was a time of fasting, self-examination, and contrition. But what does it mean for we who have already been baptized? Lent is a time to reorder our life for Christ; a time for us to reset our priorities. As Paul instructed the Colossians, we “set [our] minds on things above, not on earthly things. For [we] died, and [our] life is now hidden with Christ in God.” –Col 3.
Let’s all be honest, it is easy to get distracted. It is easy to forget the Kingdom of God. We have soccer practice, and band, and deadlines and taxes, carpools and flu season, and all these things need to be dealt with. It is true that all these things demand our attention, and it is not a bad thing that we give them the attention they deserve. However, when our attention gets so focused on today’s priorities that we miss the Kingdom’s necessities, we need a priority realignment. King David knew how easy it was to get distracted. In Psalm 19 he prays a prayer for redirection. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
We don’t need more time in the day. We don’t need more will power. We don’t need better intentions. What we all need is the power of Christ at work in us to accomplish Kingdom tasks. What we all need is a gentle reminder of what is important. What we need is a new vision.
“Lord, what do you want to do through me?”
O Love divine, what has thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s coeternal Son
bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified! – Charles Wesley
We live in a culture that is obsessed with happiness and general good vibes. We have a great set-up! Generally movies, television, radio, fast food, etc. cater to our desire for a happy life. But if they don’t, and someone slips through the cracks, we have Prozac!
The Christian life, however, asks something very different of us. It asks us to remember the cross. It asks us to consider the crucified Christ. So for the 40 days of Lent, we abstain from something close to us so that we may become closer to him. Lent is a time of somber remembrance; both of the heaviness of our sins, and the weight of God’s “search and rescue” mission. It seems odd that we would voluntarily subject ourselves to this “downer.” But the truth of the matter is, it is through this introspection that we are able to feel the full joy of Easter. Without the lowlands, how could we know the mountain?
This week we experience the final days of Lent, but even more, we have the opportunity to remember and experience the climax of God’s salvation story. If we allow it to, this week will take us from the depths of sorrow to the heights of joy. This week we are offering you a ticket to the most incredible drama that history has ever seen. As a church we have several services to remember the final week of Jesus’ life.
I know that our schedules are overbooked, but I encourage you to make some space for this story to unfold in your life. Come and join us in the Holy Week services Palm Sunday morning and evening, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, and experience the depth of God’s Salvation story.