Tea Time Introduction to Lent
If you have been a Tea Time Subscriber for long, you know that Easter is my favorite holiday and that I have been practicing Lent for several years, even before I was a part of a church that observed the Lenten Season.
For several years I have used the season of Lent to share series of Tea Time for Your Soul devotions. This year I realized that I have close to forty days of devotions collected, so I thought I would organize them and give you the opportunity to use them as you like during the Lenten Season. If they do not interest you, you are free to ignore the extra devotions; but if you are looking for a devotion to read each day of Lent they are there for you to print, or keep as new and read on-line each day. I will write a new Lenten devotion for Mondays and include readings for Tuesday through Sunday. I’m excited to share these with you.
Preparing for Easter is a spiritually enriching experience. The realities of Easter are so multidimensional that it is impossible to fully comprehend the mystery and the depth of reality. Practicing Lent has both deepened my wonder for the Trinity’s passionate love for us humans and made me more aware of my utter inability to save myself.
In John’s gospel, John the Baptist said of Jesus, "Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29b)! The sin of the world means the sin of the whole world, which means all sins committed since Adam and Eve took their first bites of the apple until the last sin that will be committed in the last second. The one Lamb of God—the one, once-and-for-all sacrifice—is so amazingly powerful that He can take it all away. He can diminish all the damage that has been done. All of it! He takes away not just my sins and your sins, but all of the sins of the entire world!
Lent is not about trying to be a better person or trying not to sin as much. Lent is about recognizing the wonder of what God planned, Jesus fulfilled, and the Holy Spirit empowered. It is not as much about sin management as it is about sin emancipation. As you practice the ancient tradition of Lenten meditation, open your soul to realize the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. May that humble you and help you realize how He can take away your personal sin.
My sin has been taken away. My sin nature is still a thorn in my flesh. In spite of my present redeemed state of spirituality, I continue to struggle with my selfish ambitions. The cross shows me that I have been made better than I am and it entices me to live out that freedom from sin that Jesus made possible for me.
If Jesus had not taken away the sin of the world, my struggle would feel impossible. The fact that Jesus has taken away my sin causes me to lean into His power to overcome the personal sins that plague my life. As I choose something from which to fast at Lent, or something to take on, I am not showing that I cannot take away my sin. I am becoming more aware of the spiritual reality that has been accomplished on my behalf. My sin is taken away in spite of me, and only through my faith in Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross. As you enter the Lenten season, become more aware of the One Who has overcome sin for you. Let Him increase and you decrease. It will bring joy to your soul.
Ash Wednesday is February 6, 2008. Make a decision to use these 40 days, minus Sundays, to examine anew the wonder of Christ’s work on the cross. Here are devotions you can use from Wednesday, February 6 until Sunday, February 10.
Bonus Tea Time for Your Soul Lenten Section:
Ash Wednesday, February 6
Ash Wednesday Signals Easter is Coming
This week many churches begin the season of Lent. All I knew about Lent as a child was that my Catholic friend would have strange-looking ash marks on her forehead and ate fish on Fridays. My personal interest in practicing Lent developed from conversations I had with friends and people I counseled who practiced Lent. They spoke of the spiritual significance it had in their lives.
Lent is a period of fasting and preparation before Easter. It has been on the church calendar since the 1st or 2nd century. The forty-day fast parallels the forty-day fasts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, and it also reflects the forty hours Jesus spent in the tomb. The days are counted in various ways by different churches. In the West, most churches use the familiar Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (minus Sundays) pattern of the seventh century.
The purpose of fasting during Lent is to grow closer to Christ. The idea of the fast is not self-denial, but the notion of connecting with God. We are not trying to convince God of our worthiness; rather we are simply observing a biblically taught discipline in order to more deeply express our devotion to God. You do not need to limit your fast to food; you can fast from television, spending, or just certain foods like dessert or ice cream.
The types of fasts have changed through the years. The fast grew stricter as Easter approached; the typical Holy Week diet consisted of dry food, bread, salt and vegetables. Of course, almost as soon as dietary restrictions were put in place, people started looking for ways to evade them. Many medieval churches allowed parishioners to eat eggs and milk products during Lent in exchange for pious acts or charitable contributions. These contributions proved so profitable for France’s Rouen Cathedral that one of the steeples was known as the Butter Tower. We can see a modern influence of Lent; it is the reason that McDonald’s offered the Filet O’ Fish.
For me, giving up something for Lent enlarges my appreciation of Christ’s amazing sacrifice. It is not a legalistic action; rather it is a small sacrifice I make that helps me reflect on Christ’s ultimate sacrifice as well as Christ’s strength.
It’s a sweet thought for me to think about the fact that Jesus has been keeping a fast since that night before His crucifixion. In Luke 22:18 He told us that he would not eat the Eucharist again until He eats it with us when we are reunited in heaven. Mainly, Lent is a time to reflect on the Passion of Christ and His love and victory over our sins.
I hope you will enjoy this prolonged experience of pondering the wonder of Christ’s journey to the cross.
Prayer for Ash Wednesday from The Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, fore ever and ever Amen.
Thursday, February 7
Preparing Your Heart for Easter
Ash Wednesday has been made popular by Mardi Gras, but the origin of this holiday is the opposite of what Mardi Gras has come to stand for.
The practice of Lent—spending the forty days before Easter to pray, fast, and reflect on what Jesus has done for us—was created to be a spiritual discipline to draw us closer to the heart of God the Father and God the Son. Its purpose is to cause us to meditate and begin to grasp the reality of what Jesus did for us through the events of Easter. Although I didn't grow up in a church that taught the practice of Lent, I have been spiritually enriched through following the basic principles for the past ten years. Easter Sunday has become so much more meaningful and moving to me as I purposely prepare my heart for Easter.
Traditionally the practice has called for a forty-day fast of some kind, since Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness to prepare for His ministry. This amount of time was chosen because forty is a traditional number of preparation in the Bible. I have found fasting from something reminds me of the precious season I am in. I have also seen God’s power released in me, helping me be faithful to my fast.
Whether you fast or not, I encourage you to read the Gospels during the forty days before Easter. I always read the last week of Jesus’ life on earth during those forty days, and it has plenty of material to cover. The parts of the Gospels that contain Jesus’ last week on earth begin around Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12.
This year I have been teaching a Bible study on the Gospels and what has stood out to me the most was Jesus’ determination to die on the cross for us. Jesus prophesied exactly what would happen to Him in Jerusalem, yet He didn't waver as He took each step toward His divine destiny. In fact, you can discover how Jesus felt about His journey to Jerusalem and what would happen to Him there in Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34.
"They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and said to them what was going to happen to him. We are going up to Jerusalem, he said and the son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10: 32-34)
He spoke these words during the period of time before the week of Easter. It is clear that Jesus was prepared for Easter. Will you be prepared?
Friday, February 8
Practicing Lent has Transformed My Soul
If you are not part of a church tradition that celebrates Lent, you might be wondering where I am coming from with this untimely title. My favorite holiday season begins with Ash Wednesday and culminates on Easter Sunday. It is known as Lent and was established by the early church fathers as a way of spiritually preparing for the Holy Week of Easter.
I started practicing Lent before I worshipped in a church that encouraged forty days of repentance and preparation for Easter. I began my own Lenten observations after my husband gave me a devotional book in 1995 called 40 Days with the Savior—Preparing Your Heart for Easter by Henry Gariepy. Sadly, it is out of print, but if you ever come across a copy I encourage you to purchase it. Henry’s wise observations of the last week of Jesus’ life continue to stimulate my thoughts and understandings of my Savior’s love.
Ash Wednesday marks 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. I never knew the excluding Sundays bit, and I was confused for several years as to why my 40 day devotion finished well before Easter. This is just one of the many discoveries I have made in my experiences of practicing Lent.
In most churches today, Christians are asked either to give up something for Lent, or to take on something. I’ve fasted from different foods or certain activities—like television. I’ve never taken on only saying sweet things to my husband, which he would really like. I have found a special spiritual power during the Lenten season as I chose a fast, inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am not able to pass over chocolate on any other day, but when that has been offered for a Lenten fast; I discovered a power beyond myself.
I used to look at Ash Wednesday as a strange church tradition where people walked around with smudged heads—the ashes rarely seem to stay in the shape of a cross. Now I see it as a time to be still and soak in what the cross meant to Jesus and what it means to me.
I want to encourage you to consider practicing this season in some way. Pick up a forty-day devotion, Lenten or otherwise, in your local Christian bookstore. Wear a cross each day and touch it while thinking about what Jesus might have thought as He prepared to give the greatest example of love the world has ever seen from the cross.
Take a moment either at your church or even in your office this Ash Wednesday to ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can use the next forty or so days to ponder the wonder of Easter. I believe you might decide that Easter is the greatest holiday on earth and find more excitement as you contemplate that "He is risen, yes He is Risen Indeed!"
Saturday, February 9
How Do You Respond to Easter?
Luke’s gospel contains subtle pictures into the souls of mankind. I find this especially true in his description of the cross of Christ. He is the one who records the details about the two thieves who hung on crosses at either side of Christ. What clearer picture can you have of who we are as inhabitants of the universe? We are not defined by skin color, economic status, or even gender. Rather, we are defined by which thief we agree with. Are we like the thief that mocked Jesus or the thief who believed His message? Jesus is in the middle inviting us all to make a decision for Him. The fate of our decision rests solely in our hearts. We each have a decision to make.
Luke goes on to describe the events after Jesus has died and when he does, he paints a portrait of how we respond to Jesus. Luke 23:47-48 says,
"The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, Surely this was a righteous man. When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away."
Here we see how the events of Easter expose the souls of men. Think about this centurion. Here was a man who had witnessed death quite a bit in his life. He was a Roman citizen and presumably not well acquainted with the teachings of the Old Testament. The Hebrew people were most likely considered a nuisance to him. He didn't go there that day to learn a spiritual lesson. He went to do his job and get his paycheck. He had no idea that the events of that day would forever change him and change his eternal destination! But they did.
Luke records that after seeing what had happened, this centurion knew this must have been a righteous man because all the signs that God was present and grieved by His death were evident in the universe. The centurion’s natural response was to praise the God Who was making His presence so evident on that day. Jesus was dead, but the presence and the power of God were still very much alive. It was clear to this man who had been at hand for many other deaths that this death was unique. This death had meaning greater than he had ever known. This death changed the heart of a hardhearted warrior into a humble worshipper.
I wish I could say the same for the majority of the people who saw the same things the centurion did. All the others saw the darkness and the earthquakes. They witnessed firsthand the statements of Christ from the cross. They saw it; took it in and experienced it, but how did they respond? They beat their breasts and went away. Feelings were running deep within them. Did they know that they would feel such anger and wrath as they watched? Watching Jesus’ death and being present as the authority of God was revealed left them angrier and full of grief. They went away neither satisfied that justice was done nor believing that this was a righteous man and praising God. It is the sad fact that many in this universe walk away from God in this same way.
How do you respond to Easter? How have you gone away from this season? Do you go away praising God, for having witnessed His presence, or do you beat your breast and walk away in grief and frustration?
Sunday, February 10
Discovering the Message of Easter
Every Easter Season I enjoy reading over the last week of Jesus’ life. Year after year, there is something that stands out to me in a different way. Though this story is so familiar, I never grow tired of its message of hope. This year I was intrigued by one seemingly unimportant detail that I found in all four Gospels.
When you study the four Gospels you will find that they don't simply repeat what the other Gospel has stated about the events of Easter. Just because one Gospel mentions one detail that another Gospel leaves out doesn't make either account untrue. Often the Gospels tell the same story from different perspectives. I first noticed a simple fact in the Gospel of Luke, then I discovered that all four Gospels had the puzzling detail that caught my attention. All four state very succinctly that Jesus was crucified in the middle of two criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.
As I read this I wondered, "Why is this important, God? What would it matter if He were on the end, or by Himself, or one of among a dozen or so being crucified that day?" God wanted it to be very clear that Jesus was in the middle of these two criminals—just the two: one who believed and one who rejected. Was Jesus in the middle so He could hear what each one said to Him? Jesus’ very life on that cross was a miracle of God. The beating He lived through killed many men. God never mishears a prayer of faith. I'm sure that even if Jesus had been two crosses down from the criminal who made a statement of faith God would have allowed Jesus’ ears to hear him. I kept pondering the significance of our knowing this seemingly insignificant fact for sure. There is no doubt—you couldn't paint the crucifixion, make a movie about it, or write a story about it without poetic license to position Jesus any other way. If you are going to be Biblically accurate, you must put Jesus in the middle of these two criminals. Why?
In my personal reflection I remembered the many times I have driven across American highways and noticed small crosses by the side of the road. When I see these crosses I realize that someone very special perished at the exact place I am passing. A certain place along a long stretch of endless highway has suddenly become sacred to those who grieve a family member who died there. This is the only way they can make a statement to all the passersby. They might be saying, "Be careful; my loved one was taken from me at this very place. Think about her; think about your driving; go in peace on your journey." Though the marker is in the shape of a cross, the mourners may or may not be saying something about Jesus. The cross as a place to mark a grave does not necessarily mean that that loved one believed in Jesus.
On those same roads that I drive, I often notice a grouping of three crosses, the one in the middle is often larger than the others. There is no doubt that whoever put these crosses out in this way had a message for me and all who pass by. They want me to remember Jesus. He was the one who died on a cross in the middle of two criminals. The three crosses point to Jesus in a way that one can be a pretty piece of jewelry or a sign of hope in death. I'm not sure if that is the only reason that Jesus died on a cross that was placed in the middle of two criminals. I'm sure that there are many other applications you can find. What is so wonderful is that each year I am more amazed by the message of Easter. God speaks to me about my personal relationship to this story. He never wants me to forget what a catastrophic event happened in my spiritual life, all because of the cross and resurrection. This week as you remember the events of Holy Week, take time to notice just one thing God wants to show you. What is your personal message from Easter?
Prayer for the first Sunday of Lent from The Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.