As I write this, we have just put away the Christmas decorations at church; the tree, the lights, the angels, and the nativity sets are all back in their storage places until next Christmas. It’s hard to believe that just as we close the door and put away the manger, we open the door and get out the cross.
This month, we begin the season of Lent: the 40 day period in which, through story and song, penitence and prayer, we journey with Jesus to the cross. The beginning and the end of Lent fall on surprising dates this year, which I think hold special significance.
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. The day we celebrate the love we share with a special someone seems to be an odd day to be marked with ash and hear the words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It seems odd to talk about Jesus’ death on a day that we celebrate love. But actually, it seems oddly appropriate that Lent begins on a day of love. It is as if God sends us a Valentine's’ Day card that reads: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The last day of Lent is April 1st, April Fool’s Day. The day we try to fool someone by saying something that is not true or unbelievable seems an odd day to be proclaiming the outrageous truth like” Christ is risen from the dead!” But actually, it seems oddly appropriate that on April 1st, we will celebrate the good news of Easter: “Christ is risen!” No foolin’. No April Fool’s joke. This is a gift from God. “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). On Easter, we will proclaim the amazing truth of God’s love: Christ is risen indeed!
The beginning of Lent (Feb. 14) and the end of Lent (April 1) highlight the truth that this season is to remind us that: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Lent begins with the gift of God’s love and ends with the promise of eternal life.
Lent is a holy season that has the power to ignite our faith. During Lent, we will offer worship services that will reflect on God’s love as spoken through the prophets; Lenten supper program to nurture our faith together; and a Lenten devotional that focuses on Jesus and the prophets. This Lent, I hope you will allow yourself to be reminded of the power of God’s mercy and love for you, by answering God’s invitation, as expressed in Ann Weems’ poem “Come Unto Me:”
When the journey gets too hard,
when we feel depleted,
when our compassion turns to complaining,
when our efforts toward justice and mercy
seem to get us nowhere,
it’s time to remember the humility part—
that it is God who has made us
and not we ourselves;
that the saving of the world or even part of it
is not on our shoulders.
It is then we can come unto him,
and he will give us rest.
With rest we’ll remember
what it is we are about.