Monday, February 23, 2009

Repent! It's Lent.

Anchor is preparing to observe the Lenten season again this year. It begins this week on Ash Wednesday and ends on Black Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

According to Christian History, the early church began the practice of baptizing initiates into the faith on Easter Eve. For forty days prior to that Saturday service they would be trained in faith and way of Jesus. Forty is a significant number in the Scriptures and life of Jesus. According to tradition, Jesus was in the grave for forty hours - from sundown of Friday to sunrise of Sunday. Jesus also spent forty days in the wilderness preparing for his gospel work of restoration to Israel.

The early church set aside forty days for new followers to prepare for baptism and begin their gospel work of restoration to the world. Eventually the church called every believer, not just initiates, to observe the forty day period as preparation for the Easter celebration and all that it represents. The season became a time of reflection and repentance, prayer and fasting, a time of preparation.

For too many Christians, the energy of Easter comes from the special songs we sing on the morning, the upbeat music, the breakfast feast, the new dressy clothes, the smell of the lilies. Obviously that is very superficial, and misses the whole point of the holy day. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - it is a foreshadow of our future.

At the End of All Things we too will have our bodies resurrected from the dead and we will join Jesus and all who followed him in the New Heavens and the New Earth. This belief has profound implications for how we live now - which is part of the reason why we need Lent - to reflect and remember, to repent and be renewed by the promise of our resurrection.

We need to be willing to repent of our sin in all seasons, not just the Lenten season. That is obvious; but what is not often acknowledged is how rarely and how few people actually repent of their sins in all seasons. What often happens is that people sin, and then they get mad at God because their life is full of junk and is a big mess. Part of the confusion also comes from an unwillingness or inability to recognize which of their actions/attitudes/words is sin.

We sin, and we wound, and we are wounded, and we wonder where God is in all of this. And God promises repeatedly to grant mercy to those that are willingly to receive it. But it is his mercy, and he gives it on his terms, and once he gives it, he controls how the mercy unfolds. It's a free gift, but it's the kind of gift that we don't take and then turn our backs on the Giver. To receive this gift of mercy is to receive the Giver as well.

During Lent we pair together physical actions to remind/spur on spiritual commitments.

~ We may forsake physical intimacy with our spouse for prayers/listening to the LORD.
~ Or we may forsake food for times of confession and penitence.
~ We may take a time out from technology so that we may be in silence, solitude - more open to hear/be with others.
~ We may put a temporary halt to our hobbies and instead invest in serving others in our home/work/church/neighborhood.
~ We may put back coins and dollars to give away to a good cause of the Gospel.

Most sins are rooted in pride (self is foremost), greed (stuff is foremost), or anger (wounded pride or unchecked greed). So it may be that you commit to surrender your sins to the LORD, that you would confess your sins of pride, greed, and anger to the LORD and resolve to repent of them whenever you are guilty of committing them.

This Lent commit to receiving mercy/forgiveness from the LORD when you commit these sins, and then letting the LORD redeem you from these sins (bringing good out of them).

 And the way you remind yourself (and spur yourself) to keep giving up these sins during the next forty days of lent is by giving up something physical and engaging in a spiritual work.


don said...

You mentioned the early church began this practice. What early church? When exactly did the practice begin? What is the significance of the ashes on ash Wednesday? What is the significance of fish on Friday? Did they only hold baptisms once a year?

Don said...

Never mind i found your links to lent. It pays to read!