Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On Lent

Here's something I wrote for a church newsletter. Written in part in evangelicalese, it's seeking to make a case for Lent for an audience that isn't used to such things.

Of the following dozen themes, which are most worth remembering in thoughtful, prayerful ways?

Jesus' birth.
Jesus' kingdom ministry.
Jesus' death.
Jesus' resurrection.
Jesus' ascension.
The sending of the Spirit.
Jesus' Second Coming.
Repentance and holiness.

I suspect you picked them all.

One advantage of following something like a traditional Christian calendar -- as opposed to a secular or Hallmark calendar -- is that it continually reminds us of the high points, from Bethlehem to the empty tomb and beyond. Granted: Seasons such as Christmas and Easter aren't biblically mandated. But done well, they can be one more discipleship tool, like Sunday school or men's and women's groups.

There's an easy objection to seasonal observances, and it's often put this way: Aren't these things that we should be emphasizing all the time? I think the answer is: Yes, in a sense, they are. But it isn't humanly possible to emphasize everything equally all the time, just as it isn't possible to recite all 21 chapters of the Gospel of John simultaneously. You can't say everything at once. It takes time.

But the objectors have a point. It's never right, for example, to forget the cross because we're emphasizing something else. All God's truth is interconnected. Some of our best Christmas carols illustrate this. "What Child Is This?" is a song about Jesus' birth, but it carries a dark reminder about this Baby's future:

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you.

We're forgetful creatures. And the Lord says, "Remember!" (Deuteronomy 4:10 and 7:18, among a host of other passages). It may be helpful to think of seasonal observances as periodic reminders of all the things we're called to reflect on -- and to live out -- the rest of the year. Every Christmas, every Easter is meant be a rock dropped into a pond that sends ripples through all our days.

We celebrate Jesus' resurrection every Sunday, of course -- that's why we meet on Sunday rather than some other day -- and we'll celebrate it in an even bigger way on April 12. How can we do it in a way that suggests we take Jesus' resurrection as seriously as we do his birth? How can we give it more weight?

One way is to prepare for it, as many churches have often done, with a season of repentance and renewal, with special attention to Jesus' suffering. I think of this season as the original Spring Revival, or (to use language associated with Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life) the original "Forty Days of Purpose." It's the "Lead Me to Calvary" season. It's the "Jesus, I Come" season.

That's what we're going to pursue this year here. We'll have a special service to get us started, on February 25, followed by special weekly services leading us to the cross and resurrection. We'll focus on humbling ourselves anew before God, on turning toward him in faith and repentance, on mutual forgiveness.

Can any of us honestly say we don't need those things?

Please pray even now for what's ahead. Pray that the beauty of these things will be real to us. Pray that we'll be changed, that we'll see afresh the light of God's glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Nothing in our hands we'll bring -- nothing but our twistedness, our failures, our need; simply to his cross we'll cling.


Blogger Angie said...

Good thoughts, Paul. And good to see you blogging again.

1:31 PM  

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