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We hope you’re enjoying Mardi Gras wherever you may celebrate it. But we also want you to remember that there is a day after Fat Tuesday which begins the season of Lent. After all the revelry and eating and dancing comes the day to remember our mortality and to look inside ourselves and see where God can work in us to make us holier, purer, more humble people. That day of remembrance is Ash Wednesday. Come and join us for our Ash Wednesday Supper and Service starting at 6 pm. We’ll begin with a simple supper of soup and bread and follow it with a time of worship together. Enjoy Mardi Gras, then begin Lent with Ash Wednesday.
“Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us.”
– Daniel 9:7
We don’t talk about shame much. Strike that, we don’t talk about our own shame that much. We laugh at the shame of others. (What is America’s Funniest Home Videos if not an exercise in laughing at the shame of others?) However, we rarely if ever acknowledge the shame within ourselves.
We have been taught from an early age to not show our shame. We are told to buck up, push back the tears, keep a stiff upper lip. We are reminded that winners persevere and do not dwell on failure. So much of our time is spent covering our shame from view, even shame that is not our responsibility. Families go overboard covering for an alcoholic or an abuser. “Everything’s fine here,” we say when everything is most definitely not fine.
And then there are the days when our shame is revealed for all the world to see. We are embarrassed as our carefully constructed scaffolds tumble and the real edifice of our imperfect lives is illuminated for all to see. Jesus said, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” (John 12:46) The light is scary place in which to live. Just ask any presidential hopeful with opposition researchers scouring the country for anything that could bring scandal.
And yet the in the light our shame dissolves and our embarrassment retreats. The beautiful thing about the light of Christ is that in the light we recognize the amazing grace God has for us. The cross shows us the depths of God’s forgiveness and mercy and enables us to step out of the darkness and into the light. Indeed, “happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1)
Lent is a time to take that step from darkness into light. It seems scary, but know that the shame we hide will be washed away in light of truth and grace.
One of the most well known card tricks ever played is the Three Card Monty. A mark who doesn’t know what’s going on comes up to the dealer. Three cards are laid down on the table, one of which is a Queen of Hearts. The mark is shown the Queen of Hearts, and then all three cards are turned face down and the dealer starts exchanging the cards one for another, back and forth, all the while chanting to the mark to “keep your eye on the Queen.” Eventually the shuffling stops and the three cards are lined up. The mark is asked to choose a card. Inevitably the mark is wrong no matter how much they kept their eyes open, because the whole thing is an illusion. The dealer has hidden the Queen up his sleeve; the mark is intently watching a bunch of superfluous cards.
Jesus once saw the eyes of many trained on the superfluous. He was in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Sukkot (or Booths or Tabernacles), a celebration of abundant harvest given by God. In the midst of the feast Jesus is teaching in the temple courts and doing quite well – he is the Son of God after all, he knows more than a little about Judaism! Yet as some in the crowd begin to wonder out loud if Jesus is indeed the Christ and others wonder why the authorities who want to kill him are dithering on the sidelines, a new trick emerges. “How can the Christ come from Galilee?”
They’ve taken their eyes off of what is important – is Jesus the Messiah or not? – and begun staring at where he is from on the map. Now at first this seems important: ancient prophesies had dictated that the Anointed One of God would hail from the City of David (aka Bethlehem). But in the midst of overwhelming revelation such as signs, wonders, miracles, teaching, is geography really that important? I would say, “No.” Although Luke’s gospel goes to great lengths to tell us Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem.
In Lent, we are challenged to discern what is important. We are called to keep our eyes on the King, to search intently for God’s kingdom and pray for its coming, and to know when we are being given an illusion. So often we lose the forest of the Gospel for the trees of the Law, and Lent challenges us to step back for just a moment an reorient ourselves towards God’s kingdom.
Shannon and I were watching television while feeding Jamie the other night and we saw an advertisement for fish sandwiches at a fast food joint. I immediately picked up on the theme, turning to Shannon and saying, “You know Lent must be coming when the fish sandwich ads appear on television.”
Many who grew up either in Roman Catholic families or who had friends who were Roman Catholic may remember that during the Spring before Easter fish was traditionally eaten on Fridays. Other than that, however, Lent remains a mystery to many of us.
Lent is a period of preparation for Easter. Lent was observed in the early church as a time when people who were ready to join the church (known as catechumens) received their training. Catechumens would join the church on Easter Sunday, almost always through the sacrament of Baptism and the public profession of their faith.
Within the first four hundred years of Christianity, Lent had become a forty day period for all Christians to consider their own lives, to learn more about the faith, and to through fasting to spiritually connect with Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. (See Matthew 3:13-4:11.)
The season itself begins on Ash Wednesday (March 9 this year) and continues through the Saturday before Easter (April 23). In some circles, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. Sundays are excluded in Lent because they are a day to celebrate the Resurrection.
Lent is a season of self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. During Lent we traditionally fast (give up certain foods or possibly all foods), rededicate ourselves to the disciplines of prayer and studying Scripture, make a concerted effort to give to the poor, make changes to lead a simpler life, or a combination of these things. In our time where life moves so quickly, Lent invites us to slow down and reflect on who we are, what we have become, and most importantly who Christ is calling to be.
So come and try Lent for a season, or continue to observe Lent if you have done so in the past. Come and dedicate yourself to God, preparing for the wonderful day when we hear that Christ is Risen. Take time to think, to pray, to study, to reflect. Slow down, and wonder at the love of God to come to us, die for us, and rise for us so that we might have life in Christ.
Come and observe a Holy Lent.
(An Ash Wednesday Service is planned for March 9 at 7 pm in the Sanctuary.)