Archive for the ‘Passion’ Category

Dust in the wind: a Lenten reflection

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As I began writing this post it was the first Sunday in the church season of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter day. The blessing priests pronounce at the Ash Wednesday service is a solemn reminder of our mortality—the priest draws the sign of the cross with ashes on one’s forehead while saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On the surface, this seems like an odd sort of blessing—a reminder that you’re going to die someday.  Death is an inevitable part of life, but it’s a contradiction because it wasn’t part of God’s plan for us. The Lenten ashes on one’s forehead reminds us that we are dead in our sinfulness and that our only hope is God’s saving grace, a gift offered freely through Christ’s death and resurrection.   

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where he bore the sins of the world, revealed God’s limitless love for each of us. Death has a way of revealing love. Over the past 100 days I’ve lost three dear friends and Army pals. For me, their deaths are also a reminder of my own mortality. I miss them all and will miss them always.  It’s easy to take someone for granted while they’re alive, but their death provides a stark reminder of how much they meant in one’s life. Though I miss them all, I take comfort in the knowledge that they were all Christ followers and they will see the Lord face to face on Resurrection Day.  

Lent is a somber season. The focus on penance, fasting, and one’s mortality is like living Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem and His crucifixion. The beauty of the crucifixion is that it isn’t the end of the story. It is the chapter in Jesus’ life leading to the season of Easter and the celebration of His glorious resurrection, which brings a gift of eternal life to those who accept him as Savior.  Lent is my favorite church season.

“(Lent) is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”  -Pope Benedict XVI

If you come from a church tradition that doesn’t celebrate Lent, I encourage you to learn more about it. There are many free resources available online from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Please visit the “Gift of Lent” link below. 

Lent
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent,
So it leads us to Easter Day.

The Seven Penitential Psalms

 

Saint Peter in Penitence by El Greco

St. Peter in Penitence, El Greco, (ca. 1580)

We are currently celebrating the church season of Lent, a 40-day period before Easter when Christians reflect upon the passion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died as atonement for our sins, setting believers free from sin and death. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the promise of eternal life for His believers.  Penitence, a solemn contemplation of one’s sins and request for God’s forgiveness, is foundational to Lent.

One Lenten discipline that I recommend is the prayerful reading of the Seven Penitential Psalms—Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. These psalms (prayers) are generally attributed to David.  Psalm 51 is probably the most widely read of the seven. In Anglican and Catholic traditions, it is often recited by congregations on Ash Wednesday and at other times during the Lenten season.

Christian tradition suggests several possible reasons behind the writing of these psalms. Probably the most widely accepted explanation is they were King David’s prayers of repentance for his sins against Uriah and Uriah’s beautiful wife Bathsheba. David’s sinful lust for Bathsheba drove him to conspire to have Uriah killed in battle. With Uriah out of the way, David took Bathsheba for his wife.  She conceived and bore a baby son, but the child died shortly after birth.  Recalling the words of condemnation delivered to him by the prophet Nathan regarding David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 4-7), David believed the baby’s death was God’s punishment for his transgressions. Nathan said to David:

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! (NIV)

Another Christian tradition associate’s the Seven Penitential Psalms with the Seven Deadly Sins. We first encounter the Seven Deadly Sins in the writings of Pope Gregory I around the year 600.  The sins are pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

The writings of  French Roman Catholic theologian Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly (1351-1420) associates certain spiritual virtues with the Seven Penitential Psalms: Psalm 6, fear of punishment; Psalm32, sorrow and confession for sin; Psalm 38, hope;  Psalm 51, love of purity and mercy; Psalm102, longing for heaven, Psalm 130, distrust of one’s own strength and hope for mercy; and Psalm 143: joy.

During this year’s season of Lent, I’ve committed to prayerfully reading the Seven Penitential Psalms daily as part of my morning devotion.  It has been a deep spiritual experience, one that I plan to make part of my future Lenten discipline.  I encourage readers to give this a try.  You can find the Seven Penitential Psalms online at the following URL:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/seven-penitential-psalms-songs-of-suffering-servant.cfm

Lent: a Season of Penitence and Prayer

Lenten Journey 3

As an Anglican, I follow a Church liturgical calendar, celebrating each of its many seasons.  Very soon the season of Lent will be upon us.  Lent this year is the period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday (March 6th) to Easter Sunday, commemorating Christ’s 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His final journey to Jerusalem, where He was crucified, and His last hours with His disciples before His crucifixion. For believers, it is a period of penitence and alms giving. On Ash Wednesday, many Christians have their foreheads marked with ashes in the sign of the cross.  The ashes are often collected from burning the palm fronds used in the celebration of Psalm Sunday.

The Catholic and Anglican traditions regarding Lent are very similar.  In the Anglican tradition, which I practice, Lent is sometimes called the Paschal season (relating to Passover or Easter). It is a preparation time intimately connected to the most important Festival of the Church year, Easter, which marks Christ’s resurrection from the dead and His victor over sin and death. In celebration of the so-called Easter Triduum, Christians commemorates the passion (suffering), death, and resurrection of Jesus and thus the origin of the all Christian belief and the source of our faith and salvation. So, as Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, Anglicans prepare for 40 days for the encounter with Him in the Easter celebration. Traditionally, the Easter season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, a day we recall Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and having his last meal with them before his crucifixion.  Maundy Thursday reminds believers of their hunger for God by refraining from food and intensifying one’s prayer life and charitable giving. 

In the Orthodox tradition, Lent is an invitation to learn the salvation story  by studying the death and the resurrection of Christ. It is an exercise in which believers partake of suffering and resurrection of the Lord. The cross and resurrection are daily realities: we die every day in all trials of life with Christ, but we experience our resurrection every day when we unite with him in faith and prayer. It is important in the Orthodox tradition to recognize that the cross is symbolic of the resurrection, not death. Fasting during Lent is an exercise of self-restraint, by which believers overcome their physical passions and win true freedom. It helps us to the internalization, especially when we pray. The believers should fast and avoid meat. They should intensify their prayer life and dig deeper into the scriptures than usual.  On Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, many Orthodox churches celebrate an evening service called “liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts”. During these services, no elements are sanctified for the Holy Eucharist.  Instead, the bread and wine sanctified on the precious Sunday are used.  On these days, many Orthodox believers fast until evening.

Protestant denominations observe Lent in a wide variety of ways. Sadly, many traditional Protestant denominations barely observe Lent or the Church Calendar at all.  However, for some, fasting during Lent is a time for reflecting on the essentials of Christianity. The original purpose is to prepare one’s self internally for the coming of Easter. Many Protestants avoid certain things during Lent in a quest to learn the true necessities in life. They may deprive themselves of dependency-related risks such as alcohol, chocolate and other sweets, and even the consumption of social media. The Lenten season is a good time to reorder one’s life—restacking priorities.  

For those readers who have no set way of observing Lent, I urge you to consider adopting a Lenten tradition.  One simple way to begin is to read a daily Lenten devotion.  There are many available on the web, but my favorite is published by Lutheran Hour Ministries.  Beginning March 6 you will be able to find the devotions at this link:  https://www.lhm.org/lent/.

“…special (church) holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.” 
         ― Brian D. McLaren,  Finding our Way Again: The Return of Ancient Practices