First, Happy President's Day! The day when many Americans celebrate great deals on new cars, sales at the malls, and a day off work. Originally to celebrate the birthday of George Washington, the federal holiday was changed in 1968 to be celebrated on the 3rd Monday of February and is now commonly considered to be a day to honor all US Presidents. Considering all the turmoil this year about the presidency the holiday feels somewhat ironic this year. But enough about that...
Lent begins this week starting with Ash Wednesday. Lent is the 40 day season of the church year leading up to Easter Sunday.
Early in the Church’s history, the major events in Christ’s life were observed with special observances, such as His birth, baptism, death, resurrection and ascension. As these observances developed, a period of time was set aside prior to the major events of Jesus’ birth and resurrection as a time of preparation.
During Lent, the Church’s worship assumes a more penitential character. The color for the season is purple, a color often associated with penitence. The “Hymn of Praise” is omitted from the liturgy. The word “Alleluia” is usually omitted as well. By not using the alleluia–a joyful expression meaning “Praise the Lord”–until Easter, the Lenten season is clearly set apart as a distinct time from the rest of the year. Additionally, it forms a powerful contrast with the festive celebration of Jesus’ resurrection when our alleluias ring loud and clear.
Finally, the penitential character of Lent is not its sole purpose. In the ancient Church, the weeks leading up to Easter were a time of intensive preparation of the candidates who were to be baptized at the Easter vigil on Holy Saturday. This time in the Church’s calendar was seen as an especially appropriate time for Baptism because of the relationship between Christ’s death and resurrection and our own in Holy Baptism (see Romans 6:1-11). This focus would suggest that the season of Lent serves not only as a time to meditate on the suffering that Christ endured on our behalf but also as an opportunity to reflect upon our own Baptism and what it means to live as a child of God.
If you are searching for good Lenten devotionals, may I suggest signing up with Lutheran Hour Ministries. This year's Lenten devotionals follow the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, The Marks of Love explores the life and ministry of Jesus. The tragedy of Golgotha is met with the triumph of the resurrection on Easter morning. Along the way, we learn of Jesus’ deep compassion for those He loved and served, including those who put Him to death.
No story in human history is like the narrative of Jesus’ Passion. In it we see God in the flesh, coming to seek and to save the lost. In The Marks of Love, we meet a Savior who endured life’s hardships, suffered our pain, and bore the weight of our sins. Each left its mark on Him as He pressed on to the cross, giving His life for ours, appeasing God’s wrath against sin, and rising victorious over sin, death, and the devil.
These devotionals are available to read online or as a podcast beginning February 17, 2021, The Marks of Love can also be received as an e-mail subscription throughout the Lenten season. Go to https://www.lhm.org/lent/ for more information.