‘Tis the season when St. Louis is filled with annual celebrations related to the season of Lent: Ash Wednesday, Lenten lunches, fish frys, and Holy Week. Where did this season come from? Can we observe it in a way that is spiritually helpful? At Central, we observe the season of Lent corporately in worship services on Sundays and in Holy Week, so we will benefit most if we understand why we do so and what it can and should mean in our lives.
Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the Theologian, was a 4th-century bishop of Nazianzus and, briefly, Constantinople. Here is an excerpt from his famous Third Theological Oration, in which he explains the paradoxes of Jesus’ salvation of the world in his death and resurrection:
He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but he redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price of his own blood. As a sheep he is led to the slaughter, but he is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb he is silent, yet he is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but he heals every disease and infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life he restores us; yea, he saves even the robber crucified with him; yea, he wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is sweetness and altogether desired. He lays down his life, but he has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but he gives life, and by his death destroys death.
Here is an article on why the poetry of 17th-century Anglican pastor George Herbert makes excellent reading for Lent because of his sensitive and insightful treatment of themes of humility, repentance, and lament:
George Herbert in Lent by Timothy George
Hebert’s poem “Love” evokes the entire journey of Lent from humble confession to the joy of hope and welcome by the divine Beloved who has overcome all the barriers of sin.
by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
We can only feast in faithfulness and joy if we are trained by fasting of all kinds. More generally, we can only appreciate and use God’s gifts rightly if we do so by waiting for the right time and submitting to his methods of training. Read here to find out how Lenten disciplines of fasting can help train us in this fasting-in-order-to-feast dynamic of the whole Christian life.
The new song for Lent at the 11:15 worship service is an arrangement of a portion of Psalm 130. The sermons during Lent this year will focus on the need for spiritual renewal with a special emphasis on the role of humble, repentant prayer in our personal spiritual growth as well as the growth of the church. Psalm 130 is a classic prayer of confession and petition that will enable us to express to the Lord our repentance as well as our longing and confident plea for his gracious healing work in setting us from “from all our sin and sorrow.”
Psalm 130 [From Depths of Woe] (Audio)
Text: Martin Luther 1523; trans. Richard Massie 1854, alt. 1961
Music: Eric Priest 2006
1. From depths of woe I raise to thee the voice of lamentation!
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me and hear my supplication.
If thou iniquities dost mark, our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O, who shall stand before thee?
2. To wash away the crimson stain, grace – grace alone – availeth!
Our works, alas, are all in vain, in much the best life faileth.
No man can glory in thy sight; all must alike confess thy might,
and live alone by mercy.
3. Though great our sins and sore our woes, his grace much more aboundeth!
His helping love no limit knows; our upmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is he, who will at last his Israel free
from all their sin and sorrow.
During the remaining services in the season of Lent, we will learn a new song to confess our sin and need for the Lord’s mercy:
Come, O Redeemer, Come (Audio)
Text and tune: Fernando Ortega, 1996; © 1996, Metro One, Inc.
1. Father, enthroned on high—“Holy, holy!”
Ancient eternal Light—hear our prayer.
Come, O Redeemer, come; grant us mercy.
Come, O Redeemer, come; grant us peace.
2. Lord, save us from the dark of our striving,
faithless, troubled hearts weighed down. REFRAIN
3. Look now upon our need; Lord, be with us.
Heal us and make us free from our sin. REFRAIN
The austerity of this song by contemporary Christian songwriter Fernando Ortega forms in us a posture of heart appropriate to the suffering of Jesus that we emphasize during the Lenten season. As we ponder and pray in light of the cross of Christ, may the Lord make this song our humble and yet hopeful lament and plea for the Lord’s mercy that not only forgives but also heals and liberates us and the whole broken world longing for its Redeemer.
Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is offering free devotional materials for individuals, families, and/or small groups to use during the season of Lent (February 13-March 30, 2013). The devotionals are emailed directly to you each Sunday in Lent. If you are interested, you can register here. (You will first have to hit the “Find Profile” button to complete the registration process).