Even though the Lent season is well upon us, we may mark it in several ways. Some of us may have marked the start of Lent with Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes on our foreheads. Some might have "given up" something for lent, or some might have decided to more earnestly devote themselves to reading of the scriptures. I, for one, have never been too good at either of those things. One year I tried to give up favorite indulgence: Golden Oreo Double stuff cookies. I was mostly successful, but several weeks into Lent, I slipped up. I unconsciously grabbed some cookies and started to eat one. I realized what I had done about one chew into the first cookie. I put the rest back into the package and spit out the one in my mouth into the trash.
I felt terrible for the rest of the day that I had not been able to keep my promise to God and go without a cookie. Sure I could try to blame it on my wife for buying the cookies and leaving them out, or some other rationalization. But that is not really being honest. The fact is, I stink at keeping my promises to God. I was so disturbed by my inability to keep this one thing--not eating Oreos during Lent--that I spoke to my pastor about it. My gracious pastor was quick to point out that despite our shortcomings and inabilities to keep promises, God never breaks His promise to us. It may seem weird to be disturbed by eating an Oreo, but thank God my pastor was there to comfort me with the Gospel. I may be off the mark a little but this is what I have learned about my life because of Lent; I cannot keep my promises to God, but He always keeps His promise to me by sending His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us! Dr. Luther once said, "The Law is for the proud and the Gospel for the brokenhearted." I was brokenhearted because of my failure, but the Gospel gave me such comfort.
For me, and maybe for you, Lent is a church season which I honestly don't like that much. Your church may start with Ash Wednesday. For all intents and purposes, it is like any other Divine Service that includes confession and absolution, chanting the Psalms. But then the Alleluias are missing. As the weeks of Lent go on more and more stuff goes missing from the services. The chanting stops and the words are only spoken. Finally, on Good Friday during the Tenebrae service, it is about all I can take. There are no paraments at all in the sanctuary or on the altar, the crucifix is covered up, no chanting, no closing hymn, not even a soft organ postlude to lead us out. I don't know about you but I hate that everything I love about the Divine Service is gone. It nearly leaves me in tears. I feel very distant from God and Christ on Good Friday. I long for Christ to be back. According to my pastor this is exactly what it is supposed to make me feel like. My mind goes to the suffering that Christ endured for us in His death on the cross. I feel ashamed that I have caused my Savior this pain and anguish. "Only three days and then Easter," I tell myself. "There is hope; Easter is coming..."
It is a long three days, three days that I think and meditate on the suffering of our Savior. When Easter morning does arrive, the Divine Service is everything I need to lift me out of the Lenten funk. We chant the Psalms, we sing "This is the Feast", and during the Sanctus the organist even rings the zimbelstern which I haven't heard in weeks! Christ is risen! He is alive! My heart is filled with thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus for us. I don't deserve it and I have not kept any promises to God, but He still kept His, and sent His Son to earth for us. What amazing love the Our Father in heaven has for us wrenched, sinful, deceitful, despicable people. Despite all our sins and doubt God kept His Lenten promise!
And that, to me, is the purpose of this Lenten season: to demonstrate to us that even though we might try to be holy or sanctified, we cannot be holy or sanctified without Christ. It is Christ alone who paid the debt for our sin on the cross, and it is Christ alone who triumphed over death on Easter morning. In Genesis 3:15 God made a promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that He would send a savior to crush the serpent's head. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
God has kept His promise and sent us Jesus, and He has paid the debt of our sin on the cross and triumphed over sin, death and the devil forever. Thanks be to God for Jesus!
Paul Norris worked for 10 years as a police officer in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. He now works as the administrative assistant at Faith Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas.
Created: March 22nd, 2016