Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blogging Lent

Well, welcome to phase three of my blogging life, friends.  This layout will change over the next few weeks undoubtedly, but the content, Lord willing, will be consistently AWESOME.

I gave up Facebook for Lent.  Lame?  I submit that yes, yes it is.  But Facebook is a time-suck in a huge way, and for someone like me with a slightly obsessive personality, it's a distraction from other, more important disciplines.

I read a quote today by Francis Bacon that went something like, "Reading makes a full man, speaking makes a quick man, writing makes an exact man."  I neither read enough nor write enough, though God knows I speak enough!  Precision is the pen's daughter, and I hope to cultivate more of that precision in my writing over the next forty days.

So.  Day one of Lent is Ash Wednesday -- for you modern evangelicals, no, that's not just "something Catholics do".  The Church calendar has been around far, far longer than a certain central Italian bishopric, and the observance of Lent (the forty days, not counting Sundays, leading up to Easter) has been part of the rhythm of the Christian year for many hundreds of years.  My church observes Lent in the same way Christians always have -- not as an effort at achieving right standing before God, but rather as a season of reminder, to help our all-too-forgetful hearts remember the mercy of God upon undeserving sinners.

For at least 1200 years, the practice of the Imposition of Ashes has been a part of the observation of Lent.  Participants receive on their foreheads the sign of the cross in ash, typically the ashes of the palm fronds used in the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration. 

Why ashes?  In the Scriptures, they connote grief, mourning, and repentance.  They remind us of our mortality -- "ashes to ashes and dust to dust."  The ashes used on Ash Wednesday call to mind the hypocrisy of the Palm Sunday crowd whose shouts of praise turned to "Crucify Him!"  As we receive them we remember that we too easily turn from our victorious King and casually reject his Kingship with our sinful lives.

We receive the ashes in the sign of the cross to remind us that, for Christians, death does not have the last word.  The Cross of Christ "speaks a better word" than the condemnation our sin deserves.  Out of death comes life because of the Savior whose power the grave could not contain.

I only had to explain that whole thing about ten times today when I showed up to school this morning with a very large black cruciform smudge on my forehead.  Which is down from last year, so that's progress, I guess!

I find great joy in this time of renewal and remembrance.  It is good for us forgetful Christians to be confronted with the "uncomfortable" doctrines and practices of the Christian life as well as the "happy" ones.  Mourning, confession, repentance -- these must find a place in my own life, lest I hold cheap the mercy of God.  One Puritan pastor told his people that unless sin is bitter, grace will never be sweet.

I pray that this will be a time in which I taste the bitterness of my sin, and know deeply the sweetness of God's grace.  My goal is to write every day, probably briefly, except Sundays, which are traditionally celebrated as miniature Feast Days during which Christians can -- in view of the Great Feast to which we look forward -- break the solemnity of their Lenten fasts.

Praying that you'll enjoy this journey toward Easter with me!


John Roberts said...

On page 175 of The Scottish Christian Journal, Volume III, 1855, I found these words in a list of quips and quotes:
"If sin be not bitter, Christ cannot be sweet." There was no ascription.

However, Thomas Watson's 1668 "The Doctrine of Repentance" has on page 67, "'Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet."
Also, a sermon of Watson's entitled "Tears of Repentance," begins with these words:
"There is no rowing to paradise except upon the stream of repenting tears. Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet."

Dave said...

I'm not sure... but that sounds an awful lot like something in The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford... who happened to live in Scotland in the first part of the 17th Century.