Pastoral Letter for Lent – March 22, 2020

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for springtime. Think of it as a form of spring cleaning for the soul. In the early years of the Church it was confined to a few days before Easter. But by the fourth century it was extended to forty days before Easter, a period associated with the forty days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert, tempted in the wilderness, just after his baptism (Matthew 4:1-11). “Forty days before Easter” may be somewhat misleading. The Church doesn’t count Sundays among the forty days, so the period of Lent, lasting from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, actually covers 46 days. Whether 40 days or 46 days, in the great scope of things Lent is a momentary pause to rethink the fundamental purpose of our lives. But it can also be the occasion of a momentous transformation; a first step on the path, at the crossroads, of becoming the people God has called us to be.

Sometimes contrary winds blow against our lives. It’s as though we’re in a ship and these winds threaten to push us off course from our intended destination.
The unknown, consuming powers of sin and evil such as coronavirus take hold of our lives demanding submission of our daily goals, energy, But the Bible tells us that God soars “on the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 18:10). If we fill our sails with his teachings and trust in him, the hope of “those who sail on distant seas” (Psalm 65:5) will help us find our way through Christ. Fill your sails and find your way and set your course on its correct path. Get back on an even keel with the good news of Jesus Christ.
We have heard in the past, “desperate times require desperate measures.” That might be true on many different levels. In the life of the Church, I prefer to use that desperate times need HOLINESS! We live in a world that has changed, almost reversed, the common values that build our society. In every way we are challenged to believe what the world wants us to believe. At times this message is so subtle that we don’t even perceive it. Pope Saint John Paul II once cried out saying that “what in the past was a crime, today is a right.” In front of all these challenges, it is a temptation for us to go with the flow, or to remain silent with our values quietly remaining in our hearts. However, God calls us to be prophets in this generation, bearing the truth to the people around us.

There’s no looking back now. We’re four weeks into the Season of Lent. We’re on our way to a cross at Jerusalem before we reach the Day of Resurrection at Easter. But will we be prepared for that Glorious Day when we get there?

Lent is a time for faithful self-assessment, prayerful repentance, and the denial of whatever egotistical tendencies keep us from loving God fully, and from loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. The Rev. Kamal Hassan, Pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, California, said, “It is also an opportunity to re-examine our comfortable notions of who we think Jesus is and what it means to walk with him.” When it comes to the tyrannical temptations of racism and all detrimental exposure to the fears this world brings upon us, it is then that nagging notions of re-examination is demanded of us in order to strengthen our spirit through the Holy Spirit.
As the Bible points out, we are all sinners and we all need repentance. We all need to confess our sinfulness and ask for God’s forgiveness. And as people of the resurrection, we trust and lean into God’s gift of abundant grace. Lent gives us an intentional time of the year to do just that (although our prayer is that we practice confession/repentance year-round).

“You are my righteousness: I am your sin. In Christ we can become what we were not…. Lord Jesus, You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.” Martin Luther.

While preparing for worship I stumbled upon a description of the season of Lent within the preaching resources of Sundays and Seasons. I very much appreciated this description of what the season of Lent is for some and how it offers another option as an opportunity of what Lent could be: a season of restrained celebration.

A Season of Restrained Celebration

When people think of Lent what comes to mind might be repentance, or giving things up, or a focus on the cross. For some it brings to mind a heavy-handed season of inward focus that feels dark. For others it has been experienced as a time for excessive guilt. In spite of all this, Lent can become a time of celebration. That may sound strange and unexpected. The key is that the celebration is restrained, is expressed in subdued and anticipatory ways, and is geared toward preparing to celebrate with exuberant joy the mystery of Easter. Lent is a season of fasting, and fasting is about a discipline of restraint so that one can celebrate more deeply and extravagantly something wonderful later. But even in that time of preparation, the joy that is to come is known now. This is Lent. Since (the Sundays during) Lent are feast days and not fast days, and the celebration of the (Lord’s Supper) is always appropriate, they are the perfect time to express a sense of restrained celebration and anticipatory joy.
Consider the origins of Lent: a time of intense preparation for a paschal mystery Easter. What could be more joyful than to prepare for one’s life to be transformed into a new life in Christ? Yet Lent was for preparation and expectation, not the full expression of celebration and joy. The disciplines and rituals of preparation all say to the baptismal candidate: get ready, God is about to do something wonderful in you through the death and resurrection of Christ at redemption, baptism, and the ultimate goal, entrance into the Kingdom of God [with joy and HOPE ].

As I prepared the Sunday worship services for the season of Lent, it was my goal that the worship services themselves would be a tool for us and our loved ones to be invited and set into a time of intentional anticipation and restrained celebration. I am hopeful that the offered Sunday worship through Faith Practices (daily prayer, meditation, reading of scripture etc.) “challenges” might serve us all as reminders that the once incarnate, now resurrected, Christ is still coming to us in word and meal to inspire us and fill us with an anticipatory and restrained joy — no matter what is the season of the church year.