The church around the world begins its season of Lenten worship today, Ash Wednesday. At Karis, our community will join with worshipers everywhere to remember the sufferings and sacrifice of our Savior, as well as his glorious trumph in the resurrection. These themes will take a special place in our corporate worship this month, and we invite you to make them a part of your own daily rhythms as you seek to deepen your walk with Christ in your homes and workplaces. With that in mind, let me offer you a brief explanation of this season. The church officially began observing Lent in the 4th Century as a season of repentance and renewal in preparation for the more celebratory season of Easter. It's a 40-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday and finishing with Good Friday and the Saturday prior to Easter. While this is actually 46 days, the church has historically still observed Sundays as feast days, or mini-celebrations of the Resurrection. Traditional Ash Wednesday worship, which I hope to begin doing corporately next year, takes us deep into the heart of this season. It is a quiet, reflective meditation on our own mortality, sinfulness and our need for a Savior. Additionally, as the Worship Sourcebook explains, we "renew our commitment to daily repentance in the Lenten season and all of life," and "remember with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin." Often, churches begin this season with the "imposition of the ashes," whereby a leader places moist ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the worshipers. This is often accompanied by the reminder, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." With this humbling reminder of our frail humanity and sinfulness, we begin an extended sojourn together for the next 6 weeks.
In reality, Ash Wednesday and the entire journey of the Lenten and Easter seasons provide an opportunity for focused walk through the gospel together. This has always been seen as a season of renewal, and the greatest source for personal and corporate renewel is a deeper plumbing of the gospel. As we reflect on the above realities, and look at the depths of Christ's passion and sacrifice, we also remember that we are united with him in life and death (Romans 6). Yes, we do take time to focus on our mortality and sinfulness, and we open our hearts to God for new ways in which he may lead us to repentance. And yes, we can even use this time to give up certain pleasures in a spirit of penetance and fasting. But ultimately, this is more than a morbid, depressing trudge toward Good Friday. Rather, Easter and the Resurrection celebration color the corners of even our darkest self-discoveries during this time. Yes, we are united to Christ in his death and suffering, and here in Lent we seek to practice and deepen that experience. But we are united to him in resurrection and new life as well. So every Sunday is a reminder of that hope. And repentance is followed by deeper faith and greater fervency, joy and vitality in our worship together. Lent is, literally, the "springtime" of the church. As we witness the wonderful passing of the creation from death to life once again, we are reminded to see the greater spiritual reality that out of death comes life. As Jesus reminds us in John 12:24-25, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
So, Karis, we invite you into the season of Lenten worship. Take time to reflect on your own sins and idols in a new and deeper way. Reflect on the great sacrfice of your Savior. If you feel so led, find some things to give up, and still better, people to give to such as the poor and the needy. And do all of it with your eyes set toward the hope of Easter, knowing that the season of Resurrection is just around the corner. We'll remember this every Sunday as we worship and break our fast weekly together during Lent (Sundays are feast days, remember). And we'll sit at the foot of the cross, of course every week, but especially again on Good Friday, April 10. I'd like to leave you with the words of a song that has recently become quite dear to us:
At the foot of the cross there’s salvation
By the blood of a pure sacrifice
By the body broken for you and for me
By the love of our Lord Jesus Christ
A father you are to the hopeless
Strength you are to the weak
Failures become perfection in you
At the foot of the cross we are free
Singing O Father we love
To sing of your grace
To sing out your praise!
At the foot of the cross we find freedom
In the death of ourselves there is life
By mercy we’re free to live in the kingdom
By the love of our Lord Jesus Christ
In the end we will walk in your glory
In the end, unveiled as your bride
All the glorious things, all gifts from the King
At the foot of the cross, where it starts
"At the Foot of the Cross"
Words & Music by Joe Day
© 2002 Gathering Music