I didn’t grow up with this thing called liturgy and with the church calendar. Clearly along the way I became something of a fan. I don’t currently serve in a liturgical tradition but I do let my novice understanding have influence on how I plan services and how I order my private spiritual life.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. As I understand it this is a season of corporate repentance. Or, this is the time when we, the big-c Church, say we’re sorry and turn from our wicked ways. In some Ash Wednesday services some churches will “bury” a banner that reads “hallelujah” and will spend the next season mourning. The cross in the church will be draped in black and nary a whisper of PTL! will be heard those forty-six days leading up to Easter Sunday.
Lent is a time to recognize our own mortality, that the odds are not in our favor. Most people die. And those who do, well… For the wages of sin is death. Lent culminates with the events of Holy Week – Palm Sunday when a king is announced, Maundy Thursday when a kingdom is inaugurated, Good Friday when the king is killed, and Holy Saturday when we sit in disbelief. The Lenten season ends remembering that God has gotten His feet dirty with the same dirt we do and ultimately has died the death we’ve earned.
And so Christians of all stripes will be taking the next few weeks to fast and confess. In the words of Kendrick Lamar: I am a sinner who’s probably gonna sin again. Lord, forgive me. Lord, forgive me.
So, I know the Bible says we should pray and fast in secret but… Stop reading my diary? I’m not sharing this so that you’ll think I’m super spiritual, though my sinful nature does hope that. Forgive me. And I’m not fasting to gain any favor from God or to get anything from Him, I don’t think that’s how fasting works.
My hope in writing is that it’ll act as an invitation to join me this year in focusing on the finished work of Christ on the cross. That you will join me in carving out some sacred space in the year to reflect on what God has done because of what we’ve done.
Last year Alyssa and I abstained from meats and sweets to middling success. Lent isn’t really about being successful. Quite the opposite, really. This year we’ll also abstain from alcohol.
There’s a rich symbolism in what we eat. Meat, sweets, alcohol all suggest feasting. And feasting suggest some sort of victory. But the war between Satan, Sin, Death and God was not won by our efforts but by the willful death of Jesus. In Deuteronomy the Israelites are reminded of when God was victorious for them over Egypt and Pharaoh, this was quoted by Jesus while he fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan:
[God] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
When we fast we’re reminded that victory belongs to God and God alone.
Let us say something about fasting, because many, for want of knowing its usefulness, undervalue its necessity, and some reject it as almost superfluous; while, on the other hand where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition. Holy and legitimate fasting is directed to three ends; for we practice it either as a restraint on the flesh, to preserve it from licentiousness, or as a preparation for prayers and pious meditations, or as a testimony of our humiliation in the presence of God when we are desirous of confessing our guilt before him.
John Calvin, Institutes, IV.12, 14, 15
Join me this Lenten season in making some time to remember what Christ has done on our behalf.
Glenn Packiam, the songwriter behind “Forgiven Forever”, wrote in his blog yesterday that… “the point of starving one appetite is to feed another. The void created by expelling our demons (figuratively speaking) must be filled by ‘whatever is pure and noble’.” James KA Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom writes about the Christian tradition of confessing that “…the practice does not leave us in despair, but rather gives us hope, assuring us of forgiveness and reminding us that the curse is being rolled back.” (181)
This season we’re entering is a hard season. A time of reflection, repentance, and confession. It is difficult to recognize fault, harder yet to admit it. But we’re not without hope. Though we enter into a season where we confess from the ashes we’ve come, to the ashes we’ll go and though we’ve hidding our hallelujah the sun will rise on Easter Sunday, Death itself will start working backwards, and we’ll sing once again Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah!
It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.
– Aslan (CS Lewis) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe