Tuesday, February 28, 2017

LENT (2017) - A Rhythm of Preparation

This Wednesday, March 1st, is Ash Wednesday. Followed by Fat Tuesday (Madi Gras), Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the annual Lenten Season. 

The word “Lent” comes from the old English, “lencten," which means “spring." In the Christian tradition, Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a special period of fasting, repentance, personal study, moderation, and spiritual discipline. 

Of course, these activities sound very Christian and can be observed any time of the year, but the purpose of doing them during the 40 day period of Lent is to set aside additional and particular time for reflection on Jesus Christ - his suffering, his sacrifice, his life, his teachings and invitations, as well as his death, burial and resurrection. 

The 40 days of Lent are to be marked by contrition, embracing our finitude, and divine exploration. To begin the season of Lent, ash is sometimes rubbed on the foreheads of Christians during an Ash Wednesday service as a sign of our finitude (e.g., Ecclesiastes 3:20) and repentance (e.g., 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21).

Now, if you can do the math, you may know there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. This is due to Sunday's being excluded. Repentance is to mark the 40 days and celebration is to mark the Sundays leading up to Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

As with all liturgical seasons and practices, Lent can be legalistically observed. There are no specific biblical warrants to observe it and it should be observed out of choice, not any sort of obligation.  Elliot Grudem articulates it well, "...any special attention to the Lenten Season that honors God must include heart-level repentance and real faith, not external obedience to church tradition. So the Lenten Season and its encouragement to take an extended time to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ provides us with an opportunity to honor God...There can be a real value in marking this season, but only if done with a heart that seeks to honor God."

Lent is a time when Christians can annually connect with their heritage and their fellow Christians around the world. It's a unique opportunity to live out the "oneness" expressed in Christ's prayer in John 17 as we, together, journey through Lent, seeking a deeper connectedness to God and one another and asking if there are things in our lives that we may need to die to? Are there habits, thoughts, and patterns of living our lives that aren't consistent with the life God intended us to live? Is God inviting us into something deeper and more meaningful?

At the same time, Lent is more than just a season of preparation and repentance. Lent should also be a time for Christians everywhere to accept the life and grace that God extends to us -- discovering how to celebrate the cross and resurrection as God's definitive act of redemption in the world.

What Can I Do During Lent?
Some of the ways in which we can observe Lent include attending the Ash Wednesday service, practicing daily Scripture readings with meditations that focus on the themes of Lent, observing daily quiet times for prayer and meditation, practicing self-denial by through various kinds of fasts. 

While Lent is about giving something up (e.g., through fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. Lent has been a traditional time of helping the poor (almsgiving) and doing acts of charity and mercy. It’s a good time to examine ways in which we might get more involved. Giving alms can be done in more ways than just giving out money to people on the street. It can be done by helping your family, friends, and neighbors out of difficult situations, by being more generous to my siblings, by donating my blood to the local blood bank, by volunteering at a school, hospital, or homeless shelter, and so on…the list is endless.

Additionally, see HERE for Lenten Ideas for The Family.

Grace Church and Lent 2017
Like years in the past, Grace Church is providing Lenten Activities each day -- [GIVE], [MEDITATE], or [PRAY] during the week and [CELEBRATE] for each of the lending up to Easter Sunday. 

You will be able to find these Lenten Activities on our church Blog, Facebook and Twitter Pages.

Plus, feel free to listen to a short podcast message (from 2016) by me about Lent and Our Lenten Activities.

My friends, may this Lenten Season be a wonderful time of growth, reflection, repentance, and personal renewal for each one of us.

Grace + Peace,
    P. Heath

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