Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How should we celebrate Lent?


Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

FOR Lutherans Lent is more ceremonial than sacrificial.  If we kept it the way it was observed for most of history it would be a jolt to our system; a drastic change to business as usual, in which case the three pre-lent Sundays we now observe would mean more to us.  They would lower us ever so gradually into the frosty lake of Lent with its imposed sorrow and self-denial.

The English word Lent comes from the word "lengthen" and refers to lengthening of the days.  As the longer days announce the coming of spring, even so Lent points to the Spring time of our religion, to the Lord's mighty resurrection from the dead, whose solemnities we will soon celebrate, for He did not merely survive brutality and death, but as the ancient prayer states:  by His death He trampled death and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.  He robbed death of its victory, removed its sting and rendered it harmless for all who believe and are baptized.

Originally, Lent was one or two days long, and was observed only by those catechumens who were to be baptized on Easter Sunday, and by their instructors.  They fasted and prayed so that these who had renounced the riches and pleasures of life would remain faithful unto death and so receive the crown of life our Lord promises to give all who hope in Him.

In the past the church imposed strict fasts and harsh spiritual disciplines on God's people to aid them in putting the desires of the flesh to death and to give them a way, however small, to share in the sufferings of Christ.  Much to our loss we don't do that anymore, but rather than lament we can still make the most of Lent by using the sacred season each year to learn anew what today's gospel and epistle so powerfully teach, namely to devote ourselves fully to the Word of God and to endure the trials and tribulations of life with calm as we learn from St. Paul who confesses:  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamites.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Fasting and other forms of self-denial are good, but to learn this lofty lesson is even better!  To master it would render you holier than any monk or ascetic that ever lived, but it is a hard lesson because the pleasures that the world lays before our eyes are desirable in the extreme, and because it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon.  To serve one you must always leave the other.  It can be no other way, so the battle rages and spiritual warfare must continually be waged.  Yet through our struggles this parable of our Lord fortifies us.  His Word, which always accomplishes what He sends it out to do, makes us the good soil He desires, and give us honest and good hearts that bear fruit with patience.

However, it is not only riches and pleasures that threaten our status as the children of God.  There are also the cares of life, the trials and tribulations that cause people to "fall away" when the time of testing comes, and come it does!  No one is exempt.  Indeed the church is Satan's primary target.  He has the rest of the world fast asleep in a happy coma, but we are soldiers of the cross, followers of the Lamb who, like our Captain, must do spiritual battle with this bloody butcher of souls day and night.

St. Paul was captured by the enemy on many occasions, and in today's epistle he recites the extensive list of brutalities he suffered at their hands.  He survived them all and went back to work because he believed the thing that Jesus told him, that whatever should befall him:  My grace is sufficient for you.

How do we react when those things happen to us?  Do we "fall away" when temptations come?  Or do we believe the same promise Christ gave to Paul:  My grace is sufficient for you.  We should believe it and stand on it with all certainty because the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient to see you through everything life can throw at you, however sudden, however frightening, however challenging, however overwhelming, His grace is sufficient to pardon your sins, give you patience and finally to show us the way out.

Or is self-pity our drug of choice when things turn south?  It is alluring, and it comes to us easily, especially if we think that no one cares about us, but self-pity is counter-productive.  It paralyzes us, and prolongs our suffering.  It is completely unnecessary because Scripture says:  As a father pities his children ... as a father feels solicitous and tender towards their weakness and naivete ... even so the LORD pities those who fear Him!  We are those children, and He always comes to our aid, so take heart!

So how should we celebrate Lent?  What will be of the most advantage to us?  The heightened devotion of our Lenten services is good.  Choose a form of self-denial if you like, because as our catechism states that, "fasting and bodily preparation is indeed good outward training..."  but to make the  most of this upcoming holy season let us learn to confess with St. Paul, no matter what befalls us:  " I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  And let us hear and rely upon the same benediction Jesus gave him:  My grace is sufficient for you.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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