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 (22 Feb) 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, facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling, but of course, He didn’t!
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 not to be served but 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.
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, pop idols, shopping, gossips, hobbies of all kinds, 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 of our 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: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9.23)
We can live out this verse as we embrace the theme of the church for this year – Evangelism! Walking across the room to speak with someone requires us to deny self. It requires us to come out of our comfort circles and walk into the zone of the unknown, a very scary thing to do especially when we think we are introverts. It requires us to allow our day to be interrupted by someone else’s need, something we may be reluctant to do especially when we are so busy that we don’t even have time for ourselves. It requires us not to be too concerned with how others around see us. It requires us to put the interests of others above our own interests.
The cross was a symbol of cruelty and shame in the days of the Romans. Those who were made to carry the cross to the place of execution had to endure not only immense physical pain but also a complete loss of dignity as they were being exposed to the ridicules and insults of those who lined the streets. How can we identify with the scorn and shame that Jesus endured while carrying His cross? How can we take up our cross daily? Walking across the room daily to share the Good News enables us to do just that. 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. If our Master had not been spared such ridicules, as His servants, we should not expect otherwise. It is a privilege to be able to share in our Master’s sufferings.
If we call ourselves Jesus’ disciples, we ought to follow in His footsteps. Disciples are followers. If Jesus had walked across the cosmos in order to stretch out His hand to save the lost, shouldn’t we follow His example – walk across the room in order to stretch out our hand to many others who are still lost in sin and hopelessness! As we reflect on the significance of Lent, and the humility and obedience of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, may His example continually inspire us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.
Pastor Kien Seng
February 26, 2012