Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and it was filled the typical ups and downs of daily life. (Power was cut off in our apartment, cleaning a house, boys refusing to nap, long faculty meetings, and late evenings out of the house.)
The day before was Fat Tuesday, and I saw many pictures on facebook and instagram of a last taste of luxuries before Lent.
I have spent the last two days pondering Lent… Everyone seems to give up something, or to make special promises of self-improvement. The biggest fad I’ve seen so far is “40 Bags in 40 Days”, where you fill one bag every day of the junk in your life, and throw it away or give it away, and thus end up with a cleaner, emptier, more fulfilling life. And, again, I wondered “WHY?”
What is the purpose of Lent, and what is the purpose of giving up luxuries, and are those purposes compatible? Or is Lent just “try #2” at the failed New Year’s Resolutions?
Yesterday, Thomas and I took the boys to a local LCMS Lutheran Church for Ash Wednesday service. We heard a reading of one of Luther’s original sermons wherein he condemns the riots that many newly-enflamed Protestants led against the churches in their areas. It was convicting and fascinating at the same time. I was amazed at the words Luther used to describe the Catholics, whom he very much disagrees with, which were kind, gentle, submissive. And the words he used against the Protestants were harsh, rebuking, and called everyone, Catholic and Protestant alike, to look only to the cross, and to the humility, love, and sacrifice needed for Christ to take that punishment on our behalf. I was convicted because it is hard to speak kindly of those who disagree on fundamental principles, and harshly to those who need correction but have acted in agreement with us.
Why did we attend Ash Wednesday services? And at a church where we are not members?
As I’ve described before, I was raised Lutheran, my husband was raised Mennonite, and we became Presbyterian when we were married. I miss the liturgical calendar, where the entire church focuses on special events in Christ’s life by gathering throughout the week, and not just on the weekends. I wanted to attend Advent services, but life was not going to allow it this past year. For now, we would like to continue to worship with fellow believers, and have our attention drawn to the love and sacrifice of our Lord.
My grandmother passed away a couple days ago. My dad told me that when he visited her for the last time this past weekend, he found some old hymns on the radio. By this time, my grandmother was not very responsive, but she moved her hands slightly when Abide With Me, and other old hymns played. She and my grandfather raised my father and his siblings in a godly home, in the Lutheran Church, and I was raised in the same circumstances. Someday, when I am almost 90 years old, I hope that the hymns of the church will still draw a reaction from me. So, I want to surround myself with those prayers and hymns. This happens at my church every Sunday. But I want it more than just on Sundays. So, we sang old hymns and prayed and worshipped alongside other believers in the middle of the week.
Ash has been used since ancient times to mark mourning, sadness, repentance, and cleansing. While “Ash Wednesday” is different for various traditions, Lent itself, should not be different. It is a time to dwell on mourning our sin that required such a horrific sacrifice, on grieving the sin that so easily entangles, on repenting from our sinful ways and turning towards Christ, and being cleansed from our sins as we look forward to the resurrection of the saints. While I’m not sure I’ll be giving anything up for Lent (to prevent myself from falling into “self-improvement” mode), I am so looking forward to time carved away from our busy world to re-learn what it means to be sinful, redeemed, and sanctified in Christ with Christians throughout the world and throughout time.