The celebration of Ash Wednesday on March 1 begins the season of Lent. The term “Lent” comes from a Middle English word for “spring”. In the spring of the year, when we leave behind the cold, dark season of winter, and anticipate the light and warmth of summer, we acknowledge that our sin has plunged us into a dark night of alienation from one another and separation from our loving Creator. In fasting and contemplation, we cultivate an attitude of contrition, expressing our sorrow over how far we have fallen short of God’s will for us. And we resolve to embark upon a journey of repentance, the sincere quest to turn ourselves around and be what we are meant to be.
Many Protestant Christians have been leery of Lenten rituals, believing that they smack of works righteousness, a transformation based upon on our own limited efforts and capacities. But indeed, the ancient Lenten practices of fasting, prayer and devotion to the suffering Jesus are meant to impress upon us the infinite costliness of our salvation, a cost borne by God in Christ for us. It is certainly true that we must respond in faith to God’s intervention into our brokenness, but whatever transformation we effect is rooted in God’s forgiving, healing and renewing power.
The forty days of Lent take us through Christ’s passion — his suffering on our behalf — to the mysterious and glorious triumph of Easter, when his Resurrection proclaims God’s victory over sin and the promise of new life for us. Lent is a journey of self-examination, of faith, of wonder at God’s unfailing love. The salvation that God offers sinful people is free in one sense. We cannot buy it, earn it or merit it. But in another sense it is, as I expressed above, costly to an infinite degree. Israelite believers in Old Testament days offered to God the fruits of their herds and flocks and groves and grain fields — their very life’s sustenance – on the altars of sacrifice. It’s as if we today were to burn our bank notes, credit cards and stock certificates as an offering. But this was not an irrational wastefulness; it was an expression of their absolute dependence on their God and their unlimited trust in God. And it was an expression of the costliness of their lives in a broken and conflicted world.
On the Sundays of this Lenten Season, Pastor Chris and I will preach through a series we are calling “the Psalms of Lent,” connecting the human heart cries expressed in the Hebrew psalms to Gospel texts which show God’s gracious response to our hopes and prayers in Christ. We will also be participating again this year in a series of shared Lenten experiences on Wednesday evenings with our sister churches in downtown Portland, beginning with a
service of ashes on March 1.
Watch for the schedule in the weekly “Trumpet Blast.”
We invite you to walk with us on this journey, and to be thrilled and informed as we approach the awesome realities of Good Friday and Easter.
— Dr. David L. Wheeler