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“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

Isaiah 12:2

This verse hit me hard this week and I felt that it was appropriate that I mentioned it on Maundy Thursday.  The thing that struck me was that the verse was loaded with Messianic expectation, and I just had to write about it.  Looking back with a New Testament perspective, one can see that this passage looked forward to the revealing of the Messiah Jesus.  Isaiah anticipated that the LORD, the covenant keeping God, would pronounce salvation to His people.  Even in times of trouble, the LORD protected His people.  He brought them out of Egypt and would bring them back from exile.  Indeed He would not stop there with these physical acts, but would take salvation to an even grander scale.

In Genesis, God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendents.  He would deliver on His promise to Abraham of blessing the entire world and provide the pathway to reconciliation among Jew and Gentile.  This reconciliation and uniting of Jew and Gentile came through Jesus.  Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, would literally become our salvation.  He would clothe Himself with flesh and live on this planet.  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate and made to be shameful in order to bring us life.  He removed our guilt and shame through the scandal of the cross.  The Messiah also provided us a Way to eternal life through His death and resurrection.  He became our salvation in His life.

Jesus also said if you trust in God; trust also in Him (Jn 14:1).  It is truly wonderful that Jesus not only took away our sin but He also then offered us life.  It is only in our trusting in Him can we sing the hymn Paul quoted in Colossians about the cosmic Lord.  For it is in Christ that we have life and can live as humans were meant to live, in right relationship with our God.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

The great Christian message of Jesus is not perfect happiness as we usually consider it.  It is not about the personal acquisition of wealth or land.  Instead, the main thread that runs through Christianity is to “give up yourself and you will find your real self.”  CS Lewis wrote this and went on to explore the paradox of submitting oneself to this type of death presently in the hope of life eternally.  This death (not literally “you have died of dysentery” death…), in a manner of speaking, will ultimately bring about the arrival of life, both now and forever.  The new life that we experience, this “real self” as Lewis suggested, will be manifested in this life.  The Spirit brings new life for those who are in Christ.  Paul reminds us,

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11

The perceived loss of one’s present life is really the gaining of a greater life.

The Christian narrative is truly one wrought with seemingly paradoxical statements.  Our life is marked by crucifomity, being made into the image of the crucified Christ which often means suffering.  How painful it is to realize this!  I would much rather be comfortable in my faith and ignore this, but that is simply not so.  My hope and prayer is that those in Christ might realize that we are truly at home when we learn this act of obedience.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Indeed this is a tough thing, but where else can we go?  For it is only in Christ that the words of eternal life are offered.

Let us believe and hold fast to them throughout the Lenten season and beyond.

Lent is a season where many people make promises to do things for a variety of reasons, both secular and sacred. While some abstain for disciplinary purposes in their faith, some abstain for reasons more practical, like getting off of sugar. The latter group would try to link spiritual fitness with their own physical or emotional well-being. Some feel the pressure (as I have at one point in my life) that if other people are doing it then so should I! Good old fashioned Lent peer-pressure! Sad to say, but this point is something that not even well-meaning evangelicals get entirely right.

I do not mean to be overly critical of people who observe Lent. While it is not a biblical mandate or event (then again, neither are summer camps), I view it generally as helpful to one’s faith. The season should be a time used for preparation and spiritual discipline. It is a time of personal reflection between the individual and God. The individual can also come to the sides of other believers and persevere in the time of discipline, as the whole Church anticipates the Passion Week of Christ and his subsequent death on Good Friday. The time should make the triumphant resurrection of Christ on Easter all the sweeter.

While people often give up things, they should also consider adding something on as a discipline. Whatever they choose it should be done with the expressed purpose of conforming their will (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to the will of the Father. This is quite often done in the act of  self denial and taking ones cross to follow in the footsteps of Christ who leads us to the Father. It is also a time of exercising spiritually, training ourselves as an athlete preparing for the Olympics. We should learn discipline and rely upon Christ for strength.

I wholeheartedly endorse Lent as a spiritual practice as long as it is personal, reflective and deeply Christ-centered. This video might help you along this 40 day journey of faith.

Why is today Good Friday?

I try to answer this question with a series of quote that capture the tragic beauty of death by crucifixion.

“Consider the price of this ransom, look carefully at this captive. He is the Son of God who is greater than all creation. How will you respond when you hear that such a priceless ransom was paid for your sins? Will you still want to offer your works done under the Law? What is the works of all men, the suffering of the martyrs, and the obedience of the holy angels compared with what the Son of God has given in His death, even death on a cross?”

– Martin Luther

“The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed because it is absurd. And he was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible.”

– Tertullian

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote this in Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus Christ:

We…know how the story turns out, yet we neither rush to Easter nor, when we come to Easter, do we put Good Friday behind us as though it were a nightmare past. The risen Christ, and indeed Christ returning in glory to judge the living and the dead, is always the crucified Christ who bears the scars. It is finished but it is not over. The reality of salvation is definitively settled, but history continues to be cruciform, a way of the cross for pilgrims headed home. Salvation is “now” and “not yet”; it is a matter of certitude and a matter of seeing in a mirror dimly; it is a present possession and a hope to be worked out with fear and trembling.

(H/T Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Take a few moments today and contemplate the amazing event that the God-Man died. Today, Christians mark the day that this death offered restoration for humanity.

E’en so I love You, and will love,
and in Your praise will sing;
Solely because You are my God,
and my Eternal King.

Descent from Cross

Jesus was nailed to a rugged piece of wood, naked.  He was beaten, had his beard torn off and was left alone by his followers.  Jesus was placed as a common criminal, a person on the side of the road strategically placed to show the strength of Rome.  The same person who created the world and fashioned the cosmos was now held to a tree.  He was looked upon as a subject of scorn, an object of derision.  He was placed there for the world.  And quite frankly, I was a cause of His pain.

Jesus was not only beaten and tortured, He was also completely alone.  He cried out to His Father, separated from God so a person does not have to experience that.  Isaiah the prophet would write in reference to the Messiah, “…he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  His broken, naked body was marked for scorn that I might have life.  It is amazing to think that “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Is 52:14).  God, the source of beauty, was destroyed and disfigured beyond all recognition for the sake of humanity.

Jesus once said that surely he who loses his life will find it and he who seeks to keep his life will lose it.  Restoration and redemption comes to those who humble themselves and come to the cross.  Salvation comes to those who cling to the cross.  It is so simple.  Now is the day.  Now is the day to learn how to live.

Why, then why,
O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love You well?
Not for the hope of winning heaven,
or of escaping hell;
Not with the hope of something gained,
Not seeking a reward;
But as You have loved me,
O ever loving Lord!

 

An individual ought to love God for His grace and salvific mercy.  It is through God’s mercy that an individual can know and love God more completely.  This love then translates into a love of neighbor.  John would write in the third chapter of his first epistle,

18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us,  we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

It is out of this love that we are able to love others.  A Christian, who is in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, ought to act differently towards their neighbor.  A Christian, out of their inward change, is prompted to love God and their neighbor completely, even an enemy. “A Christian man,” Martin Luther writes, “is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” While there is freedom in Christ there is also a sense of responsibility towards loving one’s neighbor. This is not done through a rigid command but through the indwelling of the Spirit and a change in the believer. By the Spirit’s empowerment, the Law lives inside of man’s heart and he learns to delight in it.

Might we learn to love in both deed and truth.

O my Jesus,
You embraced me upon the cross.
For me did bear the nails, and spear;
and manifold disgrace;

I have a crucifix necklace that I purchased at a monastery in Greece and wear it every day as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice.  But I must admit, it turns into a ritual and another article of clothing that I wear at times.  Honestly I spend more time on what shirt I should wear than I spend thinking about the implication of the man upon the cross that hangs from my neck! 

Often times I look upon a crucifixion and merely look through it.  Often times I gaze at a marvelous painting and admire the skill of each precise brushstroke and look through the passion of Jesus.  I do not realize that this person is fully God and fully man (the God-Man*), embracing our infirmities.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.  He who was perfect was made imperfection, humbling himself for the sake of the world.  He was nailed to a cross, naked and in complete disgrace.  What love.  What incredible love.

___________

*Doctrine of the simultaneous divinity and humanity of Christ can be found in greater extent here.  His nature was affirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

My God, I love You;
Not because I hope for heaven thereby,
Nor yet because who know You not
must die eternally.

———————

Why do people say that they love God?  Is it because out of fear of punishment?  Is it because we have this picture of a wonderful afterlife?  The love of God and the trust in God is default inside American political life, especially in more conservative circles.  It is so common that many people assert this love through generic statements of adoration and pithy bumper stickers.  The Apostle John made an entirely different conclusion on why people love God, one that is contrary in American life.  He writes in chapter 4 of his first epistle,

 

7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

 

In the current generation, we really don’t have to face death.  Technology has given us the ability to push death further into the future with medication and scientific achievement.  Someone who would have died at 40 now lives to be 90.  Quite simply, we do not have to live with questions that once plagued past generations.  A question to ponder, with I John 4 in mind, is why do you love God?

As someone who was raised in an Evangelical church, I was not originally introduced to Lent.  After much reflection I have found that this period is very helpful in producing a focus on Christ and His sacrifice.  As mentioned in a previous post, “we should participate in Lent not out of superstition or thoughtless ritual.  Lent ought to be a time of contemplative thought upon Christ and His salvific mercy.”   But regardless of one’s stance on Lent, it is helpful to find its original roots.  For those who wonder where this came from (including myself) I was able to find a good explanation of its origins. 

—————————–

The History of Lent

There is no date designated for the beginning of the observance of what is now known as Lent. Nevertheless, references in several different historical texts reveal that this tradition connected to the Easter season goes back to at least the second century. In fact, some scholars believe the crucifixion and resurrection may have been formally marked and celebrated by the apostles and their early followers in Lenten-type worship rituals. If this is the case, then Lent took root in the years just after the first Easter.

Irenaeus seems to verify this early beginning for Lent in a letter to Pope Victor I in the late second century. Irenaeus wrote that he had witnessed Christians from different areas celebrating the resurrection of Christ in a wide variety of ways, observing, "Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last forty hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers."

This report clearly suggests the observance of Easter was long established by the year 200, and an early form of Lent was also already bring practiced. That many church leaders of the period called the twelve disciples "the forefathers" indicates this practice had a solid link to the actual beginnings of Christianity. This this custom predates any official church ruling on the subject by at least two centuries.

Even during the initial observance of the time leading up to Easter, the church had already embraced a threefold purpose for the observation. The first came from the early church custom of baptizing new converts on the anniversary of Christ’s resurrection. These converts were to set aside time leading up to Easter to study what it meant to be a Christian. The classes taught by church leaders were very serious and the instruction much more detailed than that taught in most modern congregations. The second element of preparing for Easter focused on Christians turning inward and looking at their own shortcomings. This self-judgment was a part of searching for ways to put sin behind them and better emulate the Lord in their personal and public lives.

The final element of the annual observance dealt with finding the lost sheep and convincing them to come back to the flock. Church members sought out those who had strayed from their congregations and offered them the chance to once again be a part of a Christian fellowship.

While the threefold worship focus of the period leading up to Easter was fairly consistent throughout the early Christian world, the time these observances took place and their length still varied widely from region to region. Church leadership recognized this issue and felt the practice would have more meaning if it were uniformly observed and practiced. But because Christianity was still not considered a legal religion, they were powerless to even offer suggestions. In 313, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, church leaders decided that standards of worship practices should be put in place.

The 325 Council of Nicaea is best remembered for establishing official dates to observe both Christmas and Easter. At the same time the council also established rules for the observance of the weeks leading up to Easter. The council’s decrees emphasized a forty-day period of fasting. This forty-day period was likely chosen because of the significance of the number forty in both Christ’s life and biblical history. Forty was the number of days Christ fasted during his temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Moses had observed forty days of fasting and praying during the time he was given the Ten Commandments. Elijah once fasted for forty days and forty nights, and Noah watched it rain for the same period of time.

The people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness. So the early church considered forty a sacred number and therefore considered it worthy of being employed as the countdown to the holiest of holidays. Still, even with the forty days in place and a time set aside for Easter, church leaders were constantly bombarded with questions about the specifics of the observance. The most common problems dealt with what could be eaten and what the Christian definition of fasting was. After about a century of various churches’ applying different rules to the forty days leading up to Easter, the church hierarchy more fully defined how this period of time was to be observed….

In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory finally gave the forty days of fasting and remembrance a name. It is thought he titled this time "Lent" because of the Anglo-Saxon word leneten, meaning "spring" or the time when the year lengthens. This seemed to naturally tie in with the period of the year when Easter was celebrated. While Gregory would have been familair with this Anglo-Saxon term, he might have also taken the name Lent from other languages of the period that had similar words meaning "to fast." Either way, more than five centuries after the tradition began, Gregory finally gave it a name. Over time, other facets of Lent were also given specific titles….

Today, while it is practiced much differently than it was eighteen hundred years ago, Lent is an important facet of the Easter season for hundreds of millions around the globe. Many denominations can even claim an unbroken line of observing Lent going back almost to the time of Christ. Many other Christian groups that for centuries ignored the forty-day period leading up to Easter now recognize the historical significance of Lent and are incorporating certain facets of the tradition into their Easter customs. More so than at any time in the past five centuries, Lent appears to be gaining popularity and acceptance.

Since its beginnings, Lent has been a time to reconsider individual faith, to rededicate oneself to that faith, and to be thankful for the gift of eternal life given on the first Easter. Therefore, no matter the extent to which Lent is embraced in individual congregations, the goal of this season is one that should be a part of every Christian’s preparation for Easter.

_____________________

Taken from Stories Behind the Traditions and Songs of Easter

What is Lent?  Why do we even celebrate this, placing ash on our forehead and fasting from specific things?  I do think there are some benefits for this sacred period of time, namely reflection upon the most glorious event in human history- God dying for us.  For this period of Lent, I will use the lyrics to the incredible hymn My Eternal King as a backdrop for reflection upon Christ’s death.  I will take each paragraph and explore the meaning, inviting your thoughts of course.

As a preface, we should participate in Lent not out of superstition or thoughtless ritual.  Lent ought to be a time of contemplative thought upon Christ and His salvific mercy.  How he bore the sin of the world.  How He bore disgrace for me.  For us.

_______________________

My God, I love You;
Not because I hope for heaven thereby,
Nor yet because who know You not
must die eternally.

O my Jesus,
You embraced me upon the cross.
For me did bear the nails, and spear;
and manifold disgrace;

Why, then why,
O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love You well?
Not for the hope of winning heaven,
or of escaping hell;
Not with the hope of something gained,
Not seeking a reward;
But as You have loved me,
O ever loving Lord!

E’en so I love You, and will love,
and in Your praise will sing;
Solely because You are my God,
and my Eternal King.

________

Lyrics from My Eternal King by Jane Marshall

Video of this song can be found here.

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