For centuries the church has observed the season of Lent. The season of Lent is different from other seasons of the church year, it is a time for repentance and renewal. The focus of our time in the Lenten season is to identify with the suffering of Jesus, it is a season by which we walk the way of the cross, from death into life.
As we are gathered together this evening, beginning our Lenten season we are called to a posture of repentance, falling at the feet of Jesus admitting our sinfulness and our need for him. Beginning Ash Wednesday, and carrying on for the next 40 days it is a focused time of humility and confession, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
As Lent is our journey to identify with the suffering of Jesus, which calls us to repentance and renewal, the church over many centuries has developed three disciplines that assist us in this spiritual refining. They are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the threefold theme of Matthew 6.
Prayer. Let this prayer time be birthed out of a rich time in the scriptures, it should be a time of repentance and renewal, that we would ask the Lord to forgive us and build in us a clean heart.
Fasting. Be careful of your motives, don’t do this to loose weight. There are different ways to fast, you can drop a favorite food, you can choose to fast a full day each week, you can go on a partial fast for the entire season (except Sunday. Sunday is always a feast day, and celebration of the resurrection).
Give (Alms). Give to someone in need. Give a gift that goes beyond your normal giving, it i.e. be a giving that “hurts”. You should deprive yourself of something in order to help someone else.
Throughout the entire season pray that God will help you maintain your Lenten discipline as you engage in the season. Ask those in your Community to pray for you during the season.
The ashes are representative as a sign of repentance, it is a time for us to collectively as a family of faith mourn our sin and iniquity. As you come forward to receive the Ashes approach humbly, with a contrite heart.
As I stated earlier, our journey in the Lenten season is joining in the suffering of Jesus. It is a time that the church has set aside in each year that we would not simply talk about the “valley of the shadow of death”, but that we would actually walk through it. That taking up our cross and following Jesus would not just preach well, but that is would take root in our life and we would actually call ourselves to do it.
This however is not a time that is about beating ourselves up over our iniquity. It is a time that we recognize the beauty of the road to the cross, and ultimately the cross itself. What I love about Lent is that it can strip us of the false pretenses we try and live our lives in, and open us up to the magnificent power and beauty that comes through giving of ourselves for the good of others.
The Lenten season is about showing us that the power of the Spirit of God is what carries us through each moment of our lives. That Jesus’ suffering and ultimate sacrifice opened the way for us to live each day in great confidence, to face suffering and even death knowing that God our father, creator of the universe, Lord of all is with us.
Lent is a time that exposes us to idolatry in our lives, and pushes us to reconcile to God. It should help us to not receive the grace and mercy of God in vain, by recognizing that “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf.”
Lent is also a time for us to bask in incredible act of saving that Christ has done. It is a time when we repent, but also joyfully acknowledge the beautiful reconciliation that has come, because of suffering and death. It is a time to be assured of the salvation that Jesus has brought into our lives and into the World. It is a time that we recognize that marvelous light has burst forth from death.
Let me close with these words from the Apostle Paul:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,“In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.