Thursday, March 10, 2011

And So Lent Begins

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Having only just joined the Anglican church last year, this will be my first year observing Lent, and I have been looking forward to it for nearly a month.  It took a little thinking to figure out the right thing to give up for Lent.  I joked that I was giving up my cell phone for Lent (those who know me well, know my hatred for phones)!  Of course, giving up something you dislike or only occasionally use completely misses the point of Lent, and those who do so miss out also on the blessings of Lent.  For myself, I decided at last to give up meat.  It's something that I will miss daily, something that I greatly enjoy, and something that will affect me without putting me in a hospital.  To avoid any health problems from this (I have a tendency toward anemia), I'll be taking an iron supplement and increasing my intake of non-meat iron-rich foods.

What is Lent all about?  From perusing some news blogs today, I noticed a common misconception.  Dear people, Lent is NOT just about "giving something up."  It goes so, so much deeper.  Lent is a forty day period in which to prepare your heart and mind for the observance and remembrance of Resurrection Sunday (no, not Easter.  Easter is the name for the non-Christian holiday that happens to fall on the same Sunday).  Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was the only perfect person ever to live (fully God and fully man), willingly took upon Himself the sins of the entire world - all people living before Him, at the same time as Him, and after Him.  Can you imagine the burden of that horrible depravity and filth, particularly upon Someone who had never committed any wrong?  That in itself was remarkable.  But Jesus went even further.  He allowed Himself to be the final sacrifice, the One Sacrifice large enough to redeem the world.  When they cruelly pressed the crown of thorns into His head and  drove the nine inch long nails into His wrists, He was redeeming souls - they very souls of those who killed Him, had they but asked.  Perhaps one or more of them did; we have no way of knowing.

No greater love than this can or has ever existed.  This is not a flippant "love" like one observes on The Bachelor.  This is not a love built upon our own worth or own own ability to earn it - quite simply, we cannot.  This is the deepest, purest, completely limitless and unending holy Love.  He didn't wait until after He had redeemed us to love us - He loved us right at the moment those nails were being hammered in, and the horrible insults shouted at Him.  He loved us while we were yet sinners (read Romans 5:8).

Just giving up something is insufficiently observing Lent.  Along with the fasting, one should spend greater time in prayer, greater time in devotions, and greater time in pondering the meaning of what we are observing.  We should also spend greater time in submission.  Lent is not about us, it is about Christ. In the midst of some of the biggest decisions of my life, I have been most eager for Lent.  Here is a time to really concentrate on God and His will, to give up something for Him and to listen to Him.  A time to ask for and, hopefully, to receive answers and guidance.  A time to tremble in awe of God, and to daily thank Him for his unmerited mercy.  "And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth [his] hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean." (Mark 1:41, KJV)

1Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the 
Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the 
Lord in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the 
Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the 
Lord bless his people with peace!

~Psalm 29, ESV

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"