On observing Lent

Christians around the globe are now in the season of Lent. The word Lent may have Anglo-Saxon origins, meaning to lengthen, as in referring to the longer days in the season of spring. Over the centuries, Christians have developed several traditions to assist them in their 40 day (not counting Sundays) preparation for the celebration of Easter Sunday, and the resurrection of Jesus. Here are a few of them:

  • Preaching, reading, studying, praying, and focussing on the New Testament Passion Narratives, which highlight the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry; along with his journey to Jerusalem, his arrest, trial, sentence, crucifixion, suffering and death.
  • Worship Services that communicate a more reflective, sombre mood by omitting (in some denominations liturgically burying) the singing or saying of hallelujah and alleluia; as well as singing hymns with tunes in the minor key, which are often inspired by and based on the Passion Narratives. In Lutheran tradition, it has been (perhaps more so in previous generations than today) common to listen to J.S. Bach’s Passion of St Matthew and Passion of St John during the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Palm-Passion Sunday, and Good Friday Worship Services are especially designed to engage worshippers in acts of sincere confession and repentance of sin—both personal and collective; remembering with humility our mortality and hence our utter dependence on God; and the desire to journey with Jesus in the way of the cross.
  • The practice of giving something up in a sacrificial way for Lent in order to be in solidarity with Christ and the world’s poor. In our part of the world, that might include no television, no movies, or no Internet during Lent. The operative principle for giving something up in a sacrificial way during Lent is that it needs to be sacrificial; i.e. something that you value and takes up much of your time, energy and resources. For example, it is pointless to give up chocolate for Lent if you do not eat chocolate.
  • The practice of taking something extra on for Lent. For example, you may wish to spend extra time in prayer, meditation or study. Many churches offer their parishioners special mid-week Lenten Worship Services or Study opportunities or social justice projects that connect us with the world’s poor through benevolent organisations like Canadian Lutheran World Relief<www.clwr.org>.

   The Lenten season has inspired poets, musicians and artists alike down through the ages. Here is the first of 21 stanzas, (divided up into 7 parts to coincide with the Good Friday Tenebrae Service on the 7 last words of Jesus on the cross) one of my favourites, by the nineteenth century hymn writer, Thomas B. Pollock: “Jesus in thy dying woes, even while thy life-blood flows, craving pardon for thy foes: Hear us holy Jesus.” One of my favourite works of art is Salvador Dali’s 1951 painting, “Christ of St John of the Cross.

Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

  

   Whatever you do to observe Lent, may you find meaning and purpose in it to enrich, inspire and deepen you in your faith journey. I invite readers of this post to make a comment and share how you observe Lent.  A blessed Lent to you.

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Challenge for our Lenten journey

Challenge for our Lenten journey

I came across this challenge in Morten Kelsey’s Healing & Christianity, which he was given at a conference on healing by someone who did not know the name of the author. I have been unable to locate the author too. So from the wise and loving author Anonymous, here is a worthy Lenten challenge for us all:

 

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try to heal is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing.

They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.

Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave, they have forfeited their freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

 

Lord have mercy.

Header for Lent

Header for Lent

The present header depicts five symbols of the Lenten season, during which Christendom focuses on Jesus’ journey to the cross and the implications of his suffering and death for humankind and all of creation. The symbols are from right to left:

  • A black cross, reminding us of the cross made of ashes from previous year’s Palm Sunday palms and placed on the forehead during the Ash Wednesday worship service. It is a symbol of repentance and mortality.
  • A purple crown of thorns, reminding us of what Jesus wore during his Passion, as the political and military authorities mocked, whipped and crucified him. It is purple in colour, the Lenten season’s traditional colour, representing royalty, reminding us that Jesus is a different kind of King than all other kings, and his realm is far more all-encompassing than any earthly realm.
  • Nails, again in purple and reminding us that during this season we focus on the sufferings of the crucified Jesus, which he took on voluntarily, out of love for the world.
  • A sword, which reminds us of the sword Peter drew according to the Fourth Gospel account of Jesus’ arrest, and in Matthew’s account Jesus warns that those who take up the sword will die by the sword. Ultimately, Jesus’ way of peace-shalom shall eventually, once and for all, put an end to war, violence and the instruments of death.
  • A whip, which reminds us of the cruelty of the Roman empire and Christ’s solidarity with all people who suffered the most cruel of tortures throughout history and even to this day.

May you, gentle readers, be moved to take up some worthy discipline or cause during Lent in gratitude for what Christ has done and continues to do for you. One example is prayer and letter-writing advocacy work for brothers and sisters in Christ who are unjustly imprisoned, persecuted, tortured, raped, and killed in corrupt regimes around the globe. Your prayers and advocacy work can make a tremendous difference and save lives—just as the prayers and advocacy work of Christians did in the ancient Church.

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