Thursday, February 10, 2005

Lent and Cross-Shattered Christ

For the next 40 days occasionally I'll be offering some thoughts on Stanley Hauerwas's Cross-Shattered Christ, a book of meditations on our suffering savior. First, however, I want to explain for those of us who are recently learning about the movements of the yearly calendar what Lent is. Fortunately, John Ogren has already given a very good description in an article written for the Jan-Feb 03 issue of Wineskins. Here is how he describes Lent in summary:
And this is the purpose of Lent; to help us enter more fully into the suffering and death of Jesus, so that we can more richly appreciate Easter and enjoy his resurrection life. Lent is a reminder that our call to discipleship was a call to take up a cross, that our baptism was a burial into his death, and that our daily life with Christ is a sharing in his suffering and conformity to his dying. In Lent we seek deliberate and concrete ways of remembering this so that we can live it more faithfully. The disciplines of Lent (fasting, prayer, acts of service, sacrificial giving) serve to mortify our flesh, so that our flesh, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can be made to share in the life of Christ and experience the God-given exaltation of his resurrection. Much of this, we know, will only be complete in that final Easter morning of general resurrection and transformation when Christ appears. So the season of Lent signifies and equips us for the Lenten life we lead until that final Day of Redemption.
Please join us today and in coming days in Lent reflections of your own.


brent taylor said...

Some Christians actually wear a symbol of this Lent observance on their foreheads, ashes, produced by burning palm branches and mixing some holy water and applied by a priest.

My ignorance as a freshly scrubbed midwestern protestant living in New Jersey a few years back demonstrates my naivete of this practice. I was a CPA working for a small firm near Philly and walked into the reception area after visiting a client's office. I noticed a smudge on our receptionists forehead and made the appropriate subtle gestures to "help her" get it off. It didn't work so I just told her, "You have a smudge on your forehead"

She blushed and told me that it was Ash Wednesday.

Then I blushed.

I grew up in a faith community that was not particularly demonstrative of it's faith practice in the world. We sought after God, but quietly and on our own docile "don't-impose-our-beliefs-on-others" terms.

Maybe we should revisit the whole idea of smudging our foreheads with ash. After all, it's not like a symbol of religious merit like a phylactery, but a symbol of humility.

Keith Brenton said...

No one seems to be able to pin down why - in or before the fourth century - the Lenten fast expanded from two days before Easter to forty (not counting the six Sundays).

It's a time of penitence, meditation, sometimes even preparation for baptism - depending on the faith observing it.

It involves prayer, fasting, and giving (in some Christian churches that reflects Jesus' forty-day fast in the desert - which wasn't contiguous with the Passover before His crucifixion and resurrection - but Christian year seasons are like that).

But if we did track back 40-46 days before, I have a feeling we'd be close to His transfiguration; the beginning of the time when he told his disciples what would soon happen; the point at which He "resolutely set out for Jerusalem," as Luke 9:51 puts it.

Nothing would sidetrack him. He would continue to travel, teach, heal, perhaps in that span even raise a friend from the dead. But there was a destination ... and a deadline.

I like seeing Lent in that perspective. It's a countdown. It creates anticipation. The favorite items given up but still craved remind us of sacrifice, that that God provides what we need and want; of these things that should be shared with those who don't have them.

And even though my view of Lent would overlap one of the emphases of Advent, I can't help but spend my Lenten countdown anticipating the glorious Easter dawn to come - the promise of His glorious return.