A little death to self. A little cross of ashes on my forehead. It’s good to die a little bit more like this again every year…
As I prepare for Lent next Wednesday, I’ll be the first to admit that following the ancient Church calendar is pretty far outside my comfort zone as a missionary kid and a pretty typical American evangelical.
Yet, I’ll also be the first to admit, that I am eager to learn from other Christian traditions and their accompanying spiritual practices more than ever before. Since joining the pastoral staff at Blanchard Alliance Church in 2007, I’ve had to figure out what I believe about a bunch of these ancient Christian practices (and often less “evangelical” ones…)–like receiving ashes on my forehead during our yearly Solemn Assembly service coming this Sunday evening (where we’re inspired to gather like the people of Israel did upon their return to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile in Nehemiah 8-10, to practice the disciplines of: corporate and individual confession, seeking God’s healing through prayer and the anointing of oil, submitting ourselves to God’s Word and His Spirit, eating bread and drinking the cup, receiving ash as a sign of our sin and then, triumphantly, receiving Christ’s forgiveness and “putting on our new selves” in Him (March 6, 5pm, Wheaton sanctuary).
As many of you have read in my blog posts recently, I’ve been experiencing something of a spiritual renaissance of late–especially by reconnecting with God through regular times in the Bible (a real miracle of God’s power at work in me), but I’m not yet satisfied,
I definitely want more transformation–for the Holy Spirit’s scalpel to cut deeper into my soul, carving out “the flesh” in the dark spaces where God’s light hasn’t been lately (or ever). It’s grisly, gory and bloody work but it’s good, effective and necessary–just as Jesus’ sacrificial death was on the cross that Good Friday.
So, as I’ve already said, I hope to die this coming Lent, like I’ve never died before–both cognitively and experientially–to more fully realize the need for my complete death than I ever have before…
Yet, as Tim Johnson encouraged me over lunch yesterday, in my coming Lenten mourning, it’s not always about doom and gloom and death over these forty days.
Honestly, as an evangelical, this was always the part of Lent that made me uncomfortable. It felt artificial–a forty-day act of supposed piety. So my gut reaction has always been to distance myself from it. Because we evangelicals do have a solid track record of both practicing and celebrating the present, incarnate, immanent, risen Christ, personally at work shaping us into the very image of Jesus Christ every day. So, primarily for this reason, Lent has always felt like clothes that don’t fit properly.
But Tim has been helping me to get more appropriately dressed. He taught me that the ancient Church shared my perceived awkwardness (as if we’re “pretending” to mourn our already-forgiven sin in the presence of the risen, ruling and resurrected Christ) He encouraged me to understand that the ancient Church intentionally broke up the mourning of Lent with great celebration on Sunday gatherings (because it would be strange not to!) to affirm, even as Jesus taught, that it’s inappropriate to fast with the Bridegroom present (Mt. 9:15). So we are, in fact, caught between the now and the not yet as we observe Lent–Christ has already risen indeed and is fully present by His Spirit–a true cause for hopeful celebration–in the midst of my Lenten mourning.
Be encouraged, then, as Lent approaches, to affirm Jesus’ sure, true and final resurrection each Sunday during Lent. May my weekdays be consecrated with the cross of ash on my forehead–my clothes of sackcloth and ashes (and the mourning, death, fasting, quiet and sadness)– and may my Sundays be filled with joy, healing and celebration of God’s victory over sin and death in my life!