February 22 marks Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of a new season in the church year. As in Advent, when we anticipate the birth of our savior, it is in Lent when we anticipate His death and resurrection. This penitential season of the church year helps us prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for the solemnity of holy week, and the celebrations of Easter. But we must not skip to the end. Truly the joyful celebrations of Easter are magnified when we take the time to wait; to plead and lament; to suffer as we identify with Jesus’ own suffering. George Herbert states the question rhetorically in his poem “the Thanksgiving”O king of grief! (a title strange, yet true, To thee of all kings only due) O King of wounds! how shall I grieve for thee, Who in all grief preventest me ? Shall I weep blood ? why, thou hast wept such store, That all thy body was one door. Shall I be scourged, flouted, boxed, sold ? ‘Tis but to tell the tale is told. My God, my God, why dost thou part from me ? Was such a grief as cannot be. Shall I then sing, skipping, thy doleful story, And side with thy triumphant glory ? George Herbert, The Thanksgiving (excerpt)
The church should respond with a vehement NO! to his final question. We seek to acknowledge the entirety of the Christian experience: a continual motion from grief to joy, from anticipation to fulfillment, from death to resurrection. In our weekly services we will participate in and practice this motion as one body. We will provide a space for corporate confession and lament, which ultimately leads us to joy and celebration in Christ.
But lent is also a time for individual devotion. It is for that reason that many Christians take up or increase devotional practices during lent. The traditional triad of the church during lent is “prayer – fasting – charity.” In the scriptures, the three are always inextricably linked. While fasting from certain foods is a common Lenten practice, consider what else we can sacrifice for 40 days in devotion to God.
- Get up 20 minutes earlier to spend more time with the scriptures
- Fast from internet/social media (facebook, blogs, online news)
- Turn off the car stereo and spend that time talking to God
- Replace TV with time to pray with your family.
- Eat out less and give the money saved to charity
These are just a few ways we can offer our time and resources to God’s kingdom. But it is more than simply making a sacrifice. With each sacrifice we are left with a void in which to place our trust in God, and something tangible to give back to God. If we eat out less, we don’t simply save the money for ourselves, but give it right back to His kingdom through the church or charity. If we fast from TV or social media, we give that time to God in prayer or studying the Bible.
As we prepare for Easter celebrations, let us encourage one another during the next 40 days in our individual practices of penitence, prayer, fasting, and charity, all for the Glory of God.