From Pastor’s Desk
You’ve probably never heard anyone say, “I just love Lent because it makes me feel so happy!” Lent is a season of subdued jubilee in anticipation of and preparation for the joy of the promises that we can so easily take for granted. There are the somber evening services with heavy colors of purple and black. Death is spoken of freely and often, and human weakness and failure are presented in depressing detail. It all culminates with the death of Jesus. You just don’t see much that makes you happy.
Lent is about recognizing the things we like to ignore. It’s about the cleansing of deeply dirty hearts with the love and blood of our Savior. Lent is not just about what Jesus did in the past. Lent is not just about what God has accomplished and promised for our future. Lent is about our life today and our sins of today.
That recognition of the things we like to ignore begins on Wednesday. The custom of putting ashes on the foreheads of Christians on Ash Wednesday has been in use for centuries. The purpose of imposing ashes on the foreheads or hands of worshipers on Ash Wednesday is to have a visual reminder that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and death means our bodies return to dust from which Adam was made (Genesis 3:19). Ashes are biblical pictures of repentance (Job 42:6; Matthew 11:21).When the ashes form the shape of a cross on the flesh of worshipers, there is also a visible reminder for others about the precious cross of Christ. Ash Wednesday begins the Christian’s Lenten journey with a reminder of our mortality and a call to repentance. The ashes remind us forcefully of our need for redeeming grace as they recall words from the rite for Christian burial: “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…,” words that will someday be spoken over us all.
When I let a day go by without pausing to acknowledge my utter sinfulness and unworthiness before God, could it be that I’ve begun to take God’s grace in Christ for granted? When I knowingly commit a sin and shrug it off as nothing serious, have I begun to lose an appreciation for the sacrifice made to take that sin away from me? When God’s forgiveness comes to me in the gospel as a daily gift of his grace, do I hear it only casually, as if it’s nothing special? Taking for granted the greater blessings of God’s grace and forgiveness robs us of the greatest joys and of the perfect peace that God wants us to enjoy.
Let’s not let that robbing of God-intended joy happen in our hearts and lives. Let’s repent. Genuine repentance involves much more than being sorry and confessing our shortcomings. God-pleasing, genuine repentance in believers begins first with something God does. He speaks his law to us not just in order to remind us that we are something less than we should be but to force us to our knees in fear because we are by nature the exact opposite of the perfect people God demands. In that law, God thunders words that cut to the very core of our being. He says to you and to me, “The soul that sins shall die!” God-pleasing repentance continues as God leads us to believe him when he tells us that in Christ all our sins are gone and all our guilt has been removed. God-pleasing repentance lives on in our daily lives as we strive, with the help and desire that God himself gives, to turn from our sin and serve God in love and trust and thanks.
Though the world around us and our own sinful nature only downplay sin and its effects, Lent shows us the grim reality of our sin, its damaging and damning consequences, and its deserved wages not only in this life but also in the life to come.
But Lent also shows God’s grace in action as he sent his Son for us. On Calvary we see Jesus pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our guilt. There he shed his innocent blood to give us peace. He suffered what we deserved so we have eternal life—the gift of God’s grace. There he was wounded so we’d be healed.
In a world that is broken we have something to look forward to. We are promised that something good is coming. During the year it is easy to lose this anticipation and this hope, but Lent reminds us and helps us. Something good is coming. We all know it. In Lent we know that our Easter is coming.