The word Lent is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘spring’ and in the Northern Hemisphere, the period of Lent falls within spring time. This is a 40-day period that starts on Ash Wednesday and runs up to the eve of Easter Sunday. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events – Moses spent “forty days and forty nights” on Mount Sinai when receiving the Law from God (Exod 24:18); the prophet Elijah travelled forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb to encounter God (1 Kgs 19:8); most importantly, Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness to prepare for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling.
The church sets aside this season in her calendar to deliberately remember, proclaim and respond to the atoning death of Christ. The colour of Lent is purple, which is the colour of royalty and it points us to the Servant King who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10.45). If you look at the purple banner on the left side of the cross, at the front of the sanctuary, you’d see a Lamb beholding a cross and we remember John the Baptist’s exclamation, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1.29) And the purple banner on the right side of the cross shows a chalice, the cup of wrath which Jesus asked His Father to remove when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane but He continued to pray, “not my will but Thine” (Lk 22.42) More importantly, the chalice also reminds us of the new covenant sealed in Christ’s blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. That is why the symbol you see on the chalice consists of the first two Greek alphabets of the word ‘Christ’ [Χριστός] superimposed on each other.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday when ash is used to mark a cross on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of penitence. Lent is a time of soul-searching, a time to re-examine our lives, take stock of life’s situation, set right what has gone wrong, and take preventive measures so as not to repeat the same mistakes. There is the urgent necessity for true repentance. If there is true repentance, the life of the repentant should be characterised by fruits of repentance. The tree that does not bear fruit will eventually have to be cut down. Are we in danger of becoming that barren tree?
If you are observant, we don’t display any flowers at the front of the sanctuary, only twigs. This is to emphasise the sober side to life. During the season of Lent, the Church tells her children: “Stop your fun and frolic for a while. Life is not a perpetual holiday. You need to sober up and get serious.” Many will engage in the discipline of fasting, following Jesus’ example in the wilderness. Fasting is about abstaining from food but it can also include abstinence from the other pleasures of life, not that they are necessarily wrong in themselves, but staying away from them for a designated period can serve to heighten our sensitivity towards the work of the Spirit in our lives. Those who are addicted to various things, e.g. computer games, television serials, shopping, gossip, etc. can take this opportunity to tear themselves away from such trappings. Embracing the discipline of Lent will help to cure our hedonistic madness so that at the end of season, when the sobriety of Lent gives way to the festivity of Easter, the celebration reinforces the freedom and the victory we have in Christ.
Lent is about taking the journey towards the cross. When the Son of God headed for Jerusalem, He knew that He was sent there to die. He was neither naïve of the danger, nor was He oblivious to the pain and persecution that awaited Him. These things, however, did not deter Him because He was committed to His calling. In the same way, the season of Lent should be marked by a deepening realism about the cost of discipleship. Are we taking heed Jesus’ words to His disciples if we too consider ourselves to be His disciples? And these words should be familiar. They stare at you every time you enter the sanctuary and look at the stained glass: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and followme.” (Lk 9.23) In short, remember six words: “Deny Self. Carry Cross. Follow Me.”
How can we intentionally live out those six words during this period of Lent? Of course it has to be an all year round endeavour but this season can serve to kick start the process if we have not already begun to do so. Following up from last Sunday’s sermon, would you make the effort to walk across the room to befriend someone? Our selfish nature, our pride, our laziness and our busyness may suggest to us to stay within our comfort zone and not make any move. Then this is a good opportunity to deny self. We may run the risk of being rejected, ignored, or worst still, humiliated as we initiate conversations and bring God into our encounters with people. Again this will be a good opportunity for us to carry our own cross, which was a symbol of shame in those days. Don’t allow the smallest threat of danger to prevent us from fulfilling our call and being just happy to ‘play safe’. The last two words would be the most inspirational – “Follow Me”. Jesus Himself has already taken the journey to the cross and he has set for us the example of single mindedness and determination when it comes to fulfilling God’s will.
People of God, let us continue to use this period of Lent for introspection and self examination, and in areas where we have been found wanting, we will be quick to repent and re-commit our lives to the Lord so that he can use us for His glory.
Ps Kien Seng
March 27, 2011