Over the years most Christian symbolism and the two most important feast days have been twisted by the secular world to its own ends and commercialized. Everyone wears crosses; some are even bling, excessively gaudy baubles reduced to talismans, devoid of their power and meaning. Christmas has become Santa Claus and presents while Easter has its bunny, egg hunts, and baskets of chocolate goodies. Even Christians seem to want to get into the act. I just got an email from Christian Book Distributors enticing me to come and visit their “Easter Shop’.
One major Christian liturgical event, however, remains untouched by the inroads of secularization. While there is a small amount of Christian commercialization it is limited, leaving it relatively untainted. That event is Lent. I guess repentence and sacrifice don’t easily lend themselves to marketing opportunities.
At its root, Lent is a time of preparation and renewalpreparation for the glories of Easter and renewal of our lives in Christ by self examination and sacrifice. This is not because sacrifice itself makes us any more holy (see Colossians 2:16-23), but because the discipline of sacrifice is beneficial to our overall spiritual discipline. The specifics are not important, but exercising the muscle of discipline helps us to keep our ability to control ourselves in shape and possibly even to strengthen our self-control.
So, while Lent may have general principals, I believe its specifics are highly personal. What God will work on with me while I go through the discipline of Lent is probably different than what will happen between you and God. However, since there are untold millions of Christians observing Lent, there will be some overlap between a few people out there and myself. Hopefully, God will enable them find these little meditations and they will help them on their journey.
Tonight during our Ash Wednesday service I was struck by an insight about the ashes. Ashes have a specific symbolism for the beginning of Lent. They are a reminder of the dust of the earth God used to make us and after we die that our bodies will return to dust again (Genesis 3:19). However, ashes are also elemental. Fire has stripped away everything, leaving only the essentials. The fire of cleansing that Paul talks about (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) is supposed to perform a similar function, burn away everything except for the eternal essentials.
So, as I begin my Lenten observance, that is what the next 45 days will mean to me (traditionally Sundays are not counted as part of Lent), putting myself willingly through the fires of renewal to strip away some of the excess baggage I have been carrying in my spiritual life. It is sort of like Pilgrim, who in Pilgrim’s Progress laid the weight of what he had been carrying at the foot of the cross. While that is a good image, I like better the idea that Paul gives of the fire burning it up. That way you should never be able to pick it up again, at least not very easily.
I pray you will join me for Lent and that you too will endeavor to strip away some of the useless spiritual baggage you have been hauling around. May God grant you the wisdom to recognize what that is and the strength to let it go. Yes, this is the time when strength is needed to let something or someone go, rather than to hold on. May the Lord also give you grace to help in your times of need (Lenten observances always produce times of need) and give you the peace that passes all understanding which will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus as you go through the fire of renewal. Amen.
See you tomorrow.