Christian Seasons [2/26/18]
A few reflections on the practice of keeping Christian seasons and the celebration of Lent…
If you have ever found yourself in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo or Canada on Boxing Day or something of the sort you begin to realize that the way we organize our time, the calendar that we keep and the holidays that we celebrate say a lot about who we are. We don’t often stop to think about the way that our calendars and our celebrations organize our time and focus our attention. Most of us regularly walk through a year organized by a mixture of patriotic (Independence Day), sentimental (Valentine’s Day), personal (Birthdays) and promotional (Superbowl) holidays. The time that we set aside for these events, the way that we decorate and cook for them and who we gather with tells a story about our identity and what we value.
If Philippians 3:20 is true of believers, that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” it stands to reason that citizens of heaven might organize their time in significantly different ways than those that believe that this time and place is all there is. It stands to reason that our calendars and our practices would be significantly impacted by the fact that we are awaiting a Savior, Jesus Christ’s return.
For generations, many Christians have celebrated specific seasons on a calendar that serves as an extended commemoration of the gospel story. It begins in Advent with the anticipation of a coming savior. We celebrate Christmas- the event in which God became flesh, dwelt among us. We behold His glory with the wise men and Shepherds on Epiphany. Lent comes soon after with a focus on Christ’s ministry on earth and His preparation and movement towards the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. Lent is long (40 days) because the Passion is the biggest episode in every one of the Gospel the stories. This season of fasting, almsgiving, prayer and repentance is an invitation to walk with Christ who denied himself and took up a cross for us, but it’s also an incredible way to magnify our anticipation of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. It is the day when the long winter of our sin is broken by new life springing forth from the tomb.
It’s compelling to think about a people who measure time that way. Imagine asking a child what time of year it is and having them respond: “It’s almost Easter, Lent is almost over!” We can hardly imagine them saying anything except “It’s almost soccer season!”
Lent tells us what time of year it is and where we are in history. Not where we are in western history or modern history but the history of redemption and Lent tells us that we are in the time between Jesus’ resurrection as the first to rise from the dead and the second resurrection when every believer will be united with him and one another.
Lent reminds us that what Jesus did is not just some kind of spiritual truth that happened in a spiritual realm. God came, in the flesh, in a moment in history. He lived in time and space on a day just like today. He lived for something like 32 years. When we let lent impact our lives today we are reminding ourselves that our savior’s love and his life are as real as the decorations on our altar, or the chocolate that we have decided not to eat. Lent reminds us that following Jesus is not a withdrawal from what’s happening in history. The God of Lent is the God who enters time, the God with blood to shed for us.
When you come to Grace this week and for the next few weeks, take some time to notice the decoration. We have covered the communion table with purple and draped the cross with a purple sash. Like the pink of Valentine’s day or the red white and blue of the 4th of July, the decorations are intended to produce an emotional response in each of us. Purple is the liturgical color of Lent. It is a deep color of penitence, reminding us of our need for a savior and the need to turn to him from our sin. Purple is also a lush color of royalty, it reminds us of who is truly in control of history and who we belong to. If Christ is truly king and we are his heirs then purple is our family color- Lent is for training princes and princesses anticipating a kingdom.
I invite you to mark this time of lent with me and with Grace Sacramento as we remind ourselves of who we are, whose we are and where we are in this moment in time. Come Lord Jesus!
Here are a few resources that I used when I was thinking about all of this: