Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The English word “Lent” comes from the Anglo–Saxon word lencten, which means “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of "spring." The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter.
Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then be- came a time for penance by all Christians. The First Sunday describes Jesus' temptation by Satan; and the Sixth Sunday (Passion/Palm Sunday), Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent passion and death. Note that the readings during Lent, until Passion/Palm Sunday, focus primarily on the meaning of baptism and discipleship, in continuity with the season’s original purpose. Because Sundays are always little Easters, the penitential spirit of Lent should be tempered with joyful expectation of the Resurrection.
The mean or average temp in Grand rapids this past January was 3.7 degrees. In the past several days as I’m out and about I’ve heard more than a few mumblings about being tired of winter and such. As I’m typing this there’s a couple of days of snow predicted that should bring around a foot of the white stuff. While winter is a beautiful season and one that has lots of ways to enjoy it, there are moments when it becomes a bit much.
But this is why Lent is such a time of blessing! The word literally invokes Spring with is lengthening days. And even as we might be bemoaning winter, it is already well on its way out! Since Christmas we’ve added over two hours of sunlight! The lengthening of days is already well established. In the same way, God is already bringing “new light” into our lives! Scripture tells us that God is bringing forth new things, “Do you not perceive it?” Are we using these days, this season to notice the new things God is doing in our lives? As we move into Lent, we can begin preparing for the great triumph that is Easter! While there are still cold days yet to come through as winter leaves, There are more and more days of growing warmth and sunshine! In these weeks of reflection and self-examination we can grow in our faith and deepen our hearts in Christ.
Let me offer you three spiritual disciplines for this season: First, I encourage you to give up some past time, favored food, or enjoyed splurge. Do it as a way of participating in the selflessness of Christ. Jesus gave so much - we can in solidarity join in this selflessness and learn the discipline of penance (voluntary self-denial as an outward expression of repentance or sharing is Christ’s self- giving). Second, opposite of giving something up, take on something new! A new spiritual discipline such as daily reading of scripture, or regular prayer, or a six-week covenant group, or exercise. Third, be an encourager. Be “on the lookout” for folks needing an encouraging word. Remind folks of the coming great joy of Easter. Tell them again, that they are beloved by God and that God is bringing new life and the warmth of grace into their lives that very day!
Together as a congregation, I invite us to journey together toward Jerusalem. In this sojourn we can support one another, welcome the new face, hold each other in prayer, make it a priority to join to- gether in worship (either physically or by live streaming). We go together, remembering and retell- ing the mission and ministry of Jesus, gathering at the cross to witness his passion, and joining in the great hallelujah that is the empty tomb and the resurrection!
Be God’s, Pastor Jim