West Franklin Family,
Here we are again. Another season on the Christian calendar exposing my ignorance. As you have heard me say (either in these letters or from the platform Sunday morning’s), the meaning and purpose of Advent is new to me. Growing up Southern Baptist meant focusing on the Great Commission. For that I am grateful. But focusing on that meant not focusing on other things. I don’t speak for all Southern Baptist’s. But the circles I have been involved in throughout my 43 years spent very little time on Advent, Lent, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Holy Week, etc. Palm Sunday? You bet. Bring on the palm branches! “Hosanna!” Easter Sunday? “Up From the Grave He Arose!” Yessir. Christmas Eve service? “Mary Did You Know?” Every. Time. But that’s about it for the Christian calendar (unless you count “God and Country” day around the 4th of July. . . but that’s not. . . never mind). Christmas. Easter. Palm Sunday. That’s the Southern Baptist calendar. We squeeze Thanksgiving in there. We baptize Halloween (“Harvest Fest”). And even though we don’t believe in luck, we have been known to sanction Pot Luck meals as holy days. As for all the other days and seasons? We leave ’em to other denominations.
Case in point? If I didn’t have social media apps on my phone, I would have never known Wednesday – February 17th – was Ash Wednesday. And, if I didn’t know any better, I would think Lent was what you had to dig out of the dryer vent every week or so. I have heard of Lent. And I have heard of Ash Wednesday. But for most of my life I’ve had zero idea of their meaning. I was just thankful I didn’t have to go around with black soot on my forehead.
But this is to my peril. Ash Wednesday and Lent – if observed with their original intent – are, and can be, beautiful. Extremely beautiful.
I am still learning. As a matter of fact, I have tons to learn. But what I am gleaning is remarkable. One author I read said Ash Wednesday is her favorite day of the year. Why? “there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me. Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it.” If that’s the purpose of Ash Wednesday, sign me up. Another author wrote this: “Ash Wednesday may be the most formative day of my year. On Ash Wednesday, we hit RESET. On Ash Wednesday, we return to the ground…On the ground and in the dust there is no facade. No more hiding. Only rest. And that’s where Jesus can find you.” I’m not sure about you – but I’m all for that.
And who knew Lent was not just nasty fuzz in the dryer? Consider: “Lent comes from the Old English word Lencten, which means Springtime. In this season, one begins to see the goodness which emerges from the darkness of Winter. But the darkness of Winter is necessary for the greening of Spring.” I mean. . . YES. The Lent season is placed here on the calendar because we are moving from Winter to Spring. Physically, this is wonderful. But it is also a wonderful reminder spiritually: if the Winter seasons don’t happen, Spring will never be as beautiful. Another of my favorite writers combined both Ash Wednesday and Lent when he posted this recently: “Usually on Ash Wednesday, we’re marked with ashes and reminded that these same friends in line with us will one day lower us into the dirt. With all of creation, we groan. With every other human who has ever lived, we labor under death’s grey gloom. In Lent, we remember that our hope is entirely wrapped up together, in Jesus the Crucified, in Jesus the Risen One.” Please and Thank you.
West Franklin, I am not completely sure the purpose of this letter. Honestly, I am just grateful I haven’t killed one of my three teenage children this week. If I don’t get out of this house soon, someone is going to get hurt. But perhaps the purpose in my writing today is this: if you are anything like me, you need to lean into what centuries of believers have observed during this season. I hear you are supposed to give up something for Lent. I don’t know about all that (I am Baptist you know. . . and Baptist’s don’t like to give up stuff. . especially food. . . especially fried food). But I will try this: For Lent this year, I am going to give up ignorance about Lent. How’s that?
If nothing else, I need to be reminded of my/our mortality and sinfulness. I need to remember I/we will return to dust and ash. And, my goodness, I long for the anticipation of new life from the grave. Springtime emerges from Winter. Ashes. Lent. Lent. Ashes. Yes. I need this.
And for crying out loud, it is past time for Winter to make way for some Spring. Can I get an “Amen”?
Learning Along the Way,
As of right now, we are sitting on “GO!” for tomorrow morning. The parking lots are being cleared, salted, and ready for worshippers. Our Bible’s will be open to Luke 12:13-21. Can’t wait to see you.
Suggested Devotionals for Lent:
Paul David Tripp’s Journey to the Cross: A 40 Day Lenten Devotional
Walter Brueggemann’s A Way Other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent
Max Lucado’s On Calvary’s Hill: 40 Readings for Lent and Easter
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter – Multiple Contributors