THE SEASON OF LENT
Lent is a season of repentance and consecration where the church prepares to celebrate Easter together. It’s also a time that has been observed in many different ways over the years, and can bring up many different emotions and opinions in the present. Everyone has had some experience with Lent, whether good, bad, or confusing. Some may remember it as a time when parents gave up bad habits, or when they were pressured into trying it themselves only to be let down by a lack of some mystical experience. Others may have only experienced Lent through coworkers or friends who didn’t understand why they were giving something up, or used the season to display their religious superiority. Whatever our experience has been, we can try to observe Lent in the present, with this church, for this upcoming six weeks.
Lent is a part of the church calendar which walks through the life of Jesus over a matter of months. Just as Advent prepares the church to celebrate Jesus’ birth with Christmas, Lent prepares the church to celebrate the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with Easter. Lent is a season of 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday with Sundays not being counted. The 40 days corresponds to Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness for 40 days in preparation of beginning his ministry, and the Sundays are reserved as ‘feast days’ as we continue to gather and worship together. The last week of Lent walks through the week leading up to Jesus’ death, culminating with Good Friday (remembering Jesus’ crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (remembering Jesus’ resurrection). Since the earliest years of the church there is evidence of the church observing this season in some form. The traditions have changed and varied greatly over the years and today many churches observe Lent in different ways, emphasizing different aspects. While some of the traditions might not be good ones, and certainly many individuals have misunderstood or misapplied these traditions, many of them - repentance, prayer, fasting - are good things rooted in Scripture.
Just as Advent prepares the church to celebrate Jesus’ birth with Christmas, Lent prepares the church to celebrate the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with Easter.
Despite being rich in tradition, Lent is not something we have to do. It is not mandated in Scripture, or by a denomination we’re a part of. There are no ‘holy days’ we must observe outside of the Lord’s Day when we gather for worship each Sunday. We are choosing to observe Lent because we think it can be helpful. We believe that God sent his Son Jesus into the world to save us sinners. His death on the cross and resurrection was in our place, and as Christians we belong to God, forgiven and adopted as his children, and called to be his special people in the world. Compelled by this good news, we desire to follow Jesus in all areas of our life, for the rest of our life. But following Jesus and believing the Gospel can be difficult in this world. We believe having regular rhythms and seasons can be helpful for us to remember, believe, and cherish God and his gospel. So while Lent is not ‘holy’, we believe it can be helpful. We hope we can all join in for this season of repentance and consecration in the ways we think will be helpful for this church in this time.
Repentance is a gift from God that involves feeling sorrow for your sin, and turning away from the sin and back to God. One of the themes of Lent has been reflecting on our mortality, that we are humans created by God, who will one day give an account for our brief life on earth (Gen 3:19, Ps 90, 2 Cor 5:10, Jam 4:14, Heb 9:27). As we reflect on our mortality, weakness, and need for a Savior, we ask God to reveal our sin to us during this time that we might confess it and turn away from it, and back to God. It is also a time of examining our discipleship. Jesus has called us to follow him, picking up our cross daily (Mt 10:38-39). We ask God in these six weeks to reveal things we are loving more than him, and to help us die to sin and live to Christ (Rom 6:11).
Consecration means to be set apart for God. Which is exactly what God says we are (Lev 11:44, 1 Pet 2:9, 1 John 2). As we reflect and examine ourselves and our discipleship, confess what God reveals to us, and turn away from it and back to God, we then take a step toward God by setting ourselves apart from what we previously were (Col 1:21-22). We devote ourselves to prayer, reading, and fasting because our God, who loves us and has set us apart, asks us to (Col 4:2, Col 3:16, Mat 6:16-18). It is a season of renewing our commitment to follow Jesus with our whole lives by walking in obedience and faith (1 John 5:1-5)
So Lent is a season of repentance and consecration where the church prepares itself to celebrate Easter together. But if we forget that part of its intention is to prepare us to celebrate Easter, we might be left with concern and confusion. If Lent becomes a season of confessing and praying and fasting that simply leads up to Easter, we might be left thinking that it was our devotion and obedience that lead up to Jesus saving us. But the Scriptures are clear that it is not our works that save us, but grace alone (Eph 2:8-9). So it would be wrong to enter into Lent thinking that if we do things right God will love us and accept us. Instead, we observe Lent not because we hope Easter will come at the end, but precisely because we know, with eager confidence that Easter does come at the end. The good news of Easter is of what Jesus Christ did, on this earth, 2,000 years ago. This is a truth we proclaim at every gathering of our church, and will continue to during Lent. We don’t pray, read, or fast so that God might decide to love us more at the end, but because God has displayed his full love and acceptance of us in sending Jesus, and invites us to draw near him that we might know and love him more and more.
We observe Lent before Easter to help us prepare to celebrate Easter. Easter is of utmost importance to Christians (1 Cor 15), but because of indwelling sin, we continue to struggle with unbelief. By reflecting on our mortality, we prepare ourselves to wonder anew at the idea of someone on this earth coming back from the dead, and the promise that somehow we too will follow Jesus in resurrection (Rom 6:5). As we accept the brevity of our time on earth, we prepare ourselves to appreciate more fully the eternal life that Jesus promises those who die to self and follow him (John 11:25).
As we ask God to reveal our sins to us, and commit to confession and repentance, we prepare ourselves to be filled with greater awe and gratitude before the Savior who willingly took the punishment for our sins out of his love for us (1 Pet 2:24). As we realize the depth of our sin we prepare ourselves to love our Savior and his power to overcome with more depth. Lent becomes a safe time to ask God for conviction of sin because we know that whatever sin God might reveal is one that was paid for by Jesus on Good Friday and proven on Easter Sunday.
As we consecrate ourselves we learn our weakness and appreciate the humanity of our savior who was tempted in every way that we are yet without sin, and who knows our weakness (Heb 4:15). And through the means of grace with which we draw near to God we prepare ourselves to walk in the newness of life that is marked by his disciples (Rom 6:4). As we journey toward Easter through a season of consecration and devotion we prepare ourselves to continue a life of growing more and more like Jesus in the power of Jesus’ victory and resurrection in our place.
The good news we celebrate on Easter Sunday is too much to contain on one day, and so observing the season of Lent prepares us to celebrate the season of Eastertide, traditionally the 50 days following Easter ending on Pentecost Sunday. This is a season of celebration, new life, and victory which can only be appreciated fully when the season of Lent prepares us.
How We Will Observe Lent
AT OUR GATHERINGS
We will adopt a few different practices during our Gatherings as we observe the season of Lent. During our time of confession we will read through the Ten Commandments over the course of the six weeks, and respond by reading Psalm 139:23-24 together and asking God to reveal our hearts. We will then kneel as we confess our sins in prayer as we take a humble posture before God, and hope to develop a sense of sorrow for our sin. During the Pastoral Prayer we will lament sin and suffering in our lives and in the world around us as we reflect on our mortality and weakness. We will have some simple decorations using traditional textures and colors to remind us of the season we’re in, and our sermon series will cover the rhythm and practice of prayer found in the Psalms as we consecrate ourselves with prayer.
We are all invited and encouraged to participate at home by setting aside time for morning and evening reading and prayer. We will continue posting online Worship Guides to show what passages we can be reading and praying together, and a Private Worship Guide will be handed out the first Sunday of Lent for the sermon series on the Psalms. Wherever we are at, we can all commit to taking one step forward together toward God in prayer. If we currently don’t have a regular routine of reading and praying daily, Lent is a time to try to make a commitment to start. Simply using the Private Worship Guide for 10 minutes a day is a great place to begin. This could also be a time to start family worship with those you live with if you haven’t already. A simple template gets posted every Friday in our online Worship Guide. We can all choose something to take a step forward in creating rhythms of morning and evening prayer as a church.
As we set apart time for reading and prayer, it may be helpful to simplify our life and make a small sacrifice. If the time we want to set apart for prayer is currently spent doing some other activity, we can consider giving it up for these 6 weeks to help us commit ourselves to prayer. Just giving something up because that’s what people do in Lent might not be helpful, but we can choose something that would be sacrificial without being overwhelming that is aimed at creating time to spend with God in reading and prayer. Additionally, fasting from food is a biblical practice that can be used to strengthen our times of prayer and intensify our longing for God. Lent can be a good time to practice this discipline whether it’s fasting one lunch a week to focus on prayer, or fasting from a certain food during the week to intensify our desire for God, and feasting on Sundays to remember that Jesus’ work is finished. However we decide to participate, our hope is that as a church we will all take one step toward devoting ourselves to morning and evening prayer, and be willing to make small sacrifices that would be helpful to make that commitment come to fruition. Ultimately we pray that this season of Lent will strengthen our church’s faith and increase our love for God as we prepare to celebrate Easter together.