But I’m wondering if I was right to.
Years ago, I even wrote a simple poem to express myself.
I gave up nothing for Lent.
Not a buck, or one red cent.
Not coffee, or ten percent.
But have received:
Maybe that’s still an OK idea in general. But as is often the case, I believe I may have generally missed the point. (It feels like many observers of Lent may have also missed the point, leaving outsiders confused and wary.)
But in recent years, I have seen more and more the value of many of the ancient practices of the Christian church. We have begun to slowly engage with that great community of saints over the ages in Advent, Christmastide, etc. I am a convert, so to speak, to the beauty and value of the Christian Liturgy. I had been more or less unaware of the rich, liturgical tradition existent in protestant Christianity. That is changing for us, and I’m very thankful for it. (By the way, Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells & Bells is a wonderful book to read if you are looking for a simple, short introduction to Christian Liturgy.) But it’s slow going.
We are tiptoeing into Lenten practice, a little uncertain. As a low-church background evangelical, I still have some trouble seeing the beauty of Lent past the many counterproductive (and unbiblical/anti-Gospel) expressions sometimes on display. I am growing to love the Christian Calender more and more, but Lent has been a speed bump on that road for me. Are you like me?
Here are some helps.
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“Lent is neither therapeutic nor pietistic. It is political. God became King in Christ, the strong Shepherd and deliverer of His people, by means of fasting, temptation, agony and passion, and by way of the wilderness and Cross. We do not share in the Father’s Kingdom — which we daily ask Him to establish on earth as in heaven — except by sharing in His means for establishing the Kingdom.”
I love that. The erroneous idea that Christians are not interested in politics is, of course, absurd. In a sense that is what we are most concerned about. If you mean we want to avoid being co-opted by the “right” or “left” in American politics, then I am with you all the way. And then some. But Christianity is political. At its core. Until we receive the gift of a particular Jewish King from the Sky, we are doomed. All the hope of the world rests on that Jewish Sky King. Really. True story. And how that came about was not the way we expected it.
For Jesus on earth, the Kingdom was coming, but there was a cross in the way.
The Kingdom is coming for us, but there is a cross in the way for us as well. The cross is the way.
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I love the prayer in the Anglican Ash Wednesday liturgy:
“Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wickedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
I used to associate Ash Wednesday–when I considered it at all–with self-flagellation. But, as the apostle Paul said, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance–the confidence that God hates nothing he has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent.
For all my ambivalence about T.S. Eliot, there are passages in his poem “Ash Wednesday” that I just love. The lines I love the most in that poem, the lines that most perfectly capture the spirit of the day, are these:
Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
but speak the word only.
“I’m not worthy.” True enough. But not the truest thing. The Lord speaks truer things into being every day.
So happy Ash Wednesday, you old sinner. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. And God loves you anyway.
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For us, this kind of thing always makes us try to think of how to help the kids get it, and seek the Kingdom more passionately. (That shows us the way for ourselves, of course.) Gina found this and we’re going to do something like it this season. Also this calender. I’m sure there’s more and if you want to share what you’re doing, I’d appreciate it. Our family, as I’ve said, is kind of a work-in-progress on this (and many other) fronts.
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And here’s one from our friends in Huntington, West Virginia’s Redemption Church. It includes this excellent quotation from John Piper.
“Lent or no Lent, not doing some things you feel like doing is the daily pattern for the disciples of Jesus. Yes, daily. ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23)
In the resurrection there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will be sinful or foolish. Till then we have sinful and foolish desires daily. Hence, ‘Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.'”
That’s poignant to me because I was assigned to preach that passage last Sunday. It was a good segue for my heart.
OK, there’s a start. Grace and peace to you, my brothers and sisters.