Encouragement From The Word

Don’t hide your ‘alleluias’

The English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote prolifically, and focused frequently on her vibrant faith.  An Oxford Movement Anglican, she often structured her poetry around the Christian year.

Here is one of her poems for Lent, the season which, this year, began on Wednesday of this week.

It is good to be last not first,

            Pending the present distress;

It is good to hunger and thirst,

            So it be for righteousness.

It is good to spend and be spent,

            It is good to watch and to pray:

Life and Death make a goodly Lent

            So it leads us to Easter Day.

What strikes me about that poem is the very last line.  It reminds us of the purpose of Lent.  It is not an end in itself, nor is it some sort of religious diet or austerity plan.  It is a means to an end.  Lent is designed to prepare us for Easter.

Just as a measured celebration of Advent makes Christmas more special, so too does Lent, celebrated appropriately, make Easter more meaningful.  By “celebrated appropriately”, one could mean any number of things, but at the very least, it means remembering that there are but 40 days in Lent:  Sundays are not included.  Each Sunday remains a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  There is no reason to hide our ‘alleluias’ on those Sundays, because each Lord’s Day is a reminder that the Lord is risen.

So, be last and not first; hunger and thirst; spend and be spent – as long as it leads to Easter Day.  The story ends well, indeed, victoriously!  Keep that end in mind, however you choose to celebrate Lent.

But thank God!  He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.57, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

No Greater Love

For Christians in many traditions, this coming Wednesday marks a special day:  it will be Ash Wednesday.  And if you notice the calendar, it falls this year on February 14, which is also widely celebrated in western culture at Valentine’s Day.

When you were a kid, maybe your experience was a bit like mine.  My mother had me write out Valentines for each of my classmates.  After all, it was the right thing to do.  But did you feel, well, awkward about some of them?  Like they were going to be received as pregnant with meaning when they weren’t?

Love, as they say, is a many-splendoured thing.  And it is multi-faceted, like a beautiful diamond.  It can be possible to read too much – or too little – into an expression of human love.  A Valentine can be an expression of single-minded devotion, or it can be simply conforming to a cultural tradition.

Ash Wednesday inaugurates the season of Lent, a 40-day (note that Sundays are not included, since each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection!) period of penitence and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is a whole season that prepares us to receive the greatest gift of love – the greatest Valentine – ever offered.  There is nothing ambiguous about this Valentine.  Jesus only has one meaning for it – selfless, life-giving love.

You don’t need to celebrate Lent to value what Jesus has done for us.  But many people find it a helpful time to awaken their awareness of what God is doing in their lives.

This coming Wednesday, whether you receive the imposition of ashes or not, understand that the greatest Valentine you will ever receive has paid the price for your sins, has paved the way for eternal life to be yours.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jesus, John 15.14-15a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Waiting

I’m glad I have an unlimited internet subscription at home.  My wife is spending a lot of 1777331_630x354time online these days.

It’s nothing to worry about – I hope!  You see, there is this pregnant giraffe in a park in the United States that’s been, apparently, “ready” to give birth for weeks now.  And there’s a “giraffe cam” that is positioned in her stall 24/7, allowing all interested parties to watch the impending birth.

I’ve been hearing for quite a while now that this giraffe’s special delivery is imminent.  Yet the waiting continues.

Perhaps the anticipation of the birth will make it all the more exciting, all the more worthwhile – I don’t know.  But I guess I’ll find out one of these days.

Now this would be the perfect illustration for the season of Advent, wouldn’t it?  A season of waiting for an important birth?  Perfect!

But it’s not Advent; it’s Lent.

However, Lent is also a season of waiting, a season of preparation – not for a birth, but for what will bring about new birth; not for the tears of a baby, but for tears of agony; not for the cry of a newborn, but for the cry of “It is finished!”

And it is a season of waiting for the culmination of all this in the echoes of an empty tomb.

This weekend marks Palm Sunday, the time when Jesus rode a humble donkey from the humble towns of the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley and into Jerusalem, where he was lauded as a victorious king.

The week that follows would demonstrate that Jesus was, indeed, a victorious King – but not in the way people expected.  He would be nailed to a cross like a vile criminal, buried in a borrowed tomb, and on the third day, exit that tomb having paid the price for sin, and defeating death with life.

Lent can seem a long season of waiting, but as with all God-appointed seasons of anticipation, it’s worth the wait.  Take it all in.  Whatever worship gatherings are offered to you, go and worship!  Stand at the foot of the cross.  Poke your head in the empty tomb.  Revel in the fruit of your waiting.

We can be certain of the timing and the outcome of this waiting.  Meanwhile, the “giraffe cam” is still on live feed at my house.

I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.  (Psalm 27.13-14, NLT)

Encouragement From the Word will return on April 21.  A blessed Easter to all!

 

Biblical Messages

SONGS OF L(AM)ENT: The Wondrous Cross

In this new series for Lent, we’re looking at some of the songs that are characteristic of the season.  Today, we looked at Isaac Watts’ famous hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross”.  The message is based on Matthew 27.32-54, and you can listen here:

Or you can watch the video from Facebook here:  https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjeff.loach%2Fvideos%2F10211714539876163%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Encouragement From The Word

Lent: Fast or Feast?

I received a flyer in the mail this week with a picture of a local citizen, smiling, and flipping pancakes, advertising the local Lions’ Club annual pancake supper this coming Tuesday; that means Lent must be just around the corner.

Indeed, Lent begins the next day, on Ash Wednesday.  The day before is called Shrove Tuesday (shrove is the past tense of shrive, which means to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance and absolution), or Fat Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday.  In one community where we once lived, it’s called Paczki Day – that’s pronounced poonch-key – thanks to an old Polish tradition of making rich jelly-filled doughnuts.  However you look at it, the old tradition behind it is that households would get rid of all their rich foods by cooking them up before giving them up for the season of Lent.

“Lent” simply is an anglicization of a word that means ‘lengthen’, as in the days of spring.  From whence came the tradition of giving things up for Lent?  It is a season of penitence, a time when believers traditionally sought to draw themselves closer to God through abstinence from certain things, whether chocolate or sex or fat or television.

There are forty days in Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.  But if you use your fingers and toes, and one other person’s fingers and toes, you’ll find that if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, you will run out of fingers and toes.  Why are there only forty days in Lent, but more days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday?  Do the math:  if you don’t count the Sundays in Lent, you will find there are forty days.  Sundays don’t count.  Why?  Because Christians believe that every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, irrespective of what the liturgical season might be.

That’s why, even if one might choose to give up something for the season of Lent, those things need not be given up on the Sundays in Lent!  We are called to celebrate that Jesus is alive each Sunday, so there is no fasting to be done – from anything.

I always ask, when someone tells me that she or he is giving up something for Lent, “Is it drawing you closer to God?”  If it isn’t, why bother?  It becomes a hollow ritual if it just happens, or worse, we do it just to make ourselves feel good (or righteous).  Somehow, with February 14 falling on the first day after the beginning of Lent, I sense that sweets (and maybe sex) may be given up by fewer people this year!

Anyone who wishes to observe Lent through some sort of fast should, I suggest, choose to give up something significant and meaningful if the desire is to be drawn closer to God.  When we fast from food, after all, the idea is to be drawn nearer to the Lord with our hunger pangs.  If you choose to give up something for Lent, make sure it has an impact on you.  If you don’t eat a lot of chocolate, what’s the point of giving up chocolate?  It won’t likely draw you closer to God, since you won’t really miss it.

Instead of omitting something, may I suggest that you consider adding something to your life in Lent?  Consider serving at a homeless shelter, or inviting a family you don’t know very well from your church or community to share a meal with you.  Instead of removing something from your life to give glory to God, think about doing something that will give glory to God.  That’s a Lenten discipline that can benefit not only you, but many others.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2.10, NIV).

May you know God’s blessing as you prepare to mark Jesus’ journey toward the cross.

Musings

It’s Ash Wednesday, but Sunday’s comin’!

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar.  It’s a “moveable feast”, meaning its timing is always tied to Easter (which fluctuates by the moon – a story for another day!).  Ash Wednesday occurs 40 days before Easter – excluding Sundays – and marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.

In Presbyterian circles, not much has been made of Lent over the course of its history, for the very reason I mentioned above:  the season excludes Sundays.  Reformed Christians were never big on celebrating the Christian year anyway; talk to some older Scots, and you’ll find that in the extremes, even Christmas wasn’t recognized as such in the church.

The church year is a human construction, after all, but it can be helpful for many believers who like to have some structure to their personal and corporate spiritual life.  I celebrate Lent in my devotional life, but it doesn’t get much more than a wink and a nod from me on Sundays, because if you count the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, you’ll find that it only adds up to 40 if you don’t count the Sundays.  Each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection – a little Easter!  So we don’t stop singing our hallelujahs and the like for the Sundays in Lent, because those Sundays are havens from the penitential nature of the season.

Lent has also become something I’m not sure it was ever intended to be by those who first cooked up the idea. Even people who haven’t much time for God will use Lent as a season for “giving something up” – like coffee or chocolate or something like that.  (Rumour has it that Tim Horton’s moved its iconic “Roll Up The Rim To Win” promotion to coincide with Lent because too many people were giving up coffee!)

To those who give up things for Lent I’m prone to ask, Is it drawing you closer to God?  Because if it is, it would make good sense to give it up permanently!

Lent can be a season that allows us to step back and consider our relationship with God, and what may be keeping us from growing in that relationship.  It can be a very meaningful observance.  But it should not involve somber, joyless Sunday worship gatherings.  We may be entering Lent, but the tomb is still empty!

By the way, if you’re looking for a nice meditation and an interesting family activity to begin the season of Lent, check out Ann Voskamp’s blog here.