“At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.” (Mark 1:12-13, CEB)
Wednesday, February 18th is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Season of Lent, a 40-day period which is an allusion to the separation of Jesus in the desert to fast and pray. While not specifically instituted in the Bible text, the 40-day period of repentance is also analogous to the 40 days during which Moses repented and fasted in response to the making of the Golden calf. (Jews today follow a 40-day period of repenting in preparation for and during the High Holy Days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur.) The forty days of Lent are counted as the weekdays, excluding Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Easter. This observance has been part of church tradition since the Fourth Century A.D.
I bring all this history up to say that, aside from the tradition and the ritual, Lent has an important role to play in our lives as Christian believers. Just as we spend time during Advent preparing ourselves to receive the newborn Christ, we must spend time preparing ourselves to understand the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice – his passion and death; and the full importance of his resurrection. These are not simple concepts for us to comprehend and we need time to pray and listen for God’s voice. Church tradition calls for us to spend time seriously considering the state of our own lives; to examine our own sinfulness and to repent. It is a time to ask forgiveness and to listen for God leading us away from the things that tempt us to sin. It is a time for us to re-examine our Christian life and seek to strengthen our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Lent is actually not much different from the life God calls us to each day; it is simply a time when we should concentrate on becoming who God wants us to become and striving to implement what we discover during Lent each day after Easter Sunday.
The four weeks prior to Lent this year we have spent talking about how prayer makes a real difference in our lives. This has been an intentional effort to guide us toward a more powerful prayer life so that we are better prepared for the Season of Lent. During Lent we will have the “Praying Backwards” series to give you a chance to study practical ways to offer prayer to God. We will also have a contemplative Prayer Walk available every day in Fellowship Hall. This guided walk offers stations where you may spend time with God in prayer and further develop that peace we cannot explain that I talked about this past Sunday morning. Our children and youth have been busy making prayer beads for each person attending worship on Sunday, February 22nd, the first Sunday in Lent. This is another method of helping us to focus on prayer and avoid distractions when we are in conversation with God. There will also be several opportunities to gather with fellow believers from across Sand Springs as we once again celebrate “Tuesdays in Lent” with our sisters and brothers in Christ. (There is more information about this event in this newsletter.)
There are many other ways that Christians have traditionally marked the Season of Lent. Prayer is certainly of vital importance, but fasting is also a widely observed practice. Depriving ourselves of things that we desire as we seek to know God better reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus. It also demonstrates for us the relative importance of material comforts in our lives and helps us to better appreciate the things that God wants us to count as important. If fasting is not possible for you, then consider taking something up rather than giving something up. Take up a new habit of giving, or a new prayer discipline, or a new Scripture reading schedule. Begin something new this Lent that will help you grow spiritually. Remember that this is a season of preparation; we are preparing ourselves to know God completely through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I hope you will plan to join us for Ash Wednesday worship at 6:30 p.m. on February 18th. Together we will begin the season by reminding ourselves of our own mortality and the eternal immortality promised to us by God. This will be the start of a season where we will walk together along the road the Jesus leads us. We will encounter “The Rebel Jesus” as we explore the “Renegade Gospel” each Sunday during Lent. Then, as we approach Easter Sunday, we will celebrate our annual Maundy Thursday supper, Good Friday worship and the glory of Resurrection Sunday, beginning with Sunrise Service on April 5th.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand.” (Joel 2:1)
Praying for all of us,