I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received
from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
For a great many Christians, Lent is a special time of prayer, meditation, special reflection. If we are serious about the Christian WAY, we already have some disciplines and practices that keep us aware and hopefully more “in tune” with the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the world around us always gets more time than our prayers – more chances to influence us than the time we spend in worship. Happily, our true loyalties are not controlled by the influence of time alone.
Lent, in any case, gives us a chance to swing the balance some in the other direction. Ash Wednesday begins Lent. This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st. There will be an Ash Wednesday service in our sanctuary that evening at 7:00 pm Pacific time. Last year, with the support of the Deacons, we skipped over Ash Wednesday. It is not really part of Congregational tradition. I said maybe we were just making busier schedules for our people, and maybe if we did not hold an Ash Wednesday service, we would discover if it was a meaningful service for our people or not. We did not get a single complaint. But I did learn that a few of our people, not wanting to complain, simply went to Ash Wednesday services in other churches nearby. I like that part – very sensible and creative.
However, it did “bother” one person I was not expecting would be troubled: me. I did not like the fact that we did nothing to “announce” or usher in Lent last year. I do not expect hordes to show up, and it is still fine if any of our people want to take this opportunity to worship in other nearby churches. But we will have our own simple service at 7:00 pm on March 1st. I know at least one person who will attend.
However, I still think Ash Wednesday, for all its somber meanings, should be a time of gratitude and anticipation. The Holy Spirit is eager for more and deeper relationship with us. “Giving up something for Lent,” despite all its familiarity, is not the best note to strike. When I was a sophomore in college (University of Redlands), Mariana came into my life. I really did not have time for such a relationship. I had five part-time jobs, trying to ease the financial burden on my father, and I was trying to keep up with my studies, which was the real purpose of my being there (when I could remember it). Who had time or money or energy for romance or dating? Not I (I told myself many times). But somehow I kept finding things I could “give up” in order to spend more time with Mariana. I don’t ever recall thinking of it as some kind of “sacrifice.” I was giving up some things because something far more important had come into my life.
If our relationship with the Holy Spirit of Jesus is not far more important than anything we are “giving up,” then that is a sad and irrelevant Lenten discipline indeed. But are there still things in our lives that we can “trade” for more time with our Lord? If so, welcome to Ash Wednesday, and to Lent.
Peace & Love,