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Monday, March 15, 2010 

Lenten Thoughts: Not A Dark Place But A Place Of Joy

An evangelical friend of mine, who I had not talked with for some time, called me Saturday evening on her way home. She said that since it was such a long drive she thought she would give me and the missus a shout as she had a few hours to burn.

When she asked me “guess what I did this morning?” I gave my usual random off the wall quirky answer “uh, you killed yerself a couple of possums?” Usually when people ask me a question to which I know I’m not going to even be in the right ballpark I’ll throw out the color blue as the reply and just wait for the look of muted confusion. I get that a lot even when I don’t try goofy words or phrases for some reason… I wonder why?

Anyhoo, the appropriate answer to my friend’s question was that she had used the Lutheran Service Book that I sent to her a few years back. I sent her a copy so that if I was ever asked lead a morning devotion, as I’ve been asked to do on occasion, I would have a copy of the Order of Matins to start us off. For what it’s worth, if I’m not attending a morning service that offers the Eucharist I would much rather follow the Order of Matins instead of one of our regular Divine Services whether it’s setting I or III as is the norm in my congregation.

My friend told me she followed the morning prayers, jumped around a little bit and ended up meditating on the one my favorite hymns: O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken by Johann Heermann. She stated that it was “a dark hymn but sometimes we’ve got to go there”. And that got me thinking…

For those of us that follow the historical church’s liturgical calendar we are now almost through the season of Lent. Lent traditionally is viewed as a more somber or penitential season of the Church year which has the hymnody and the passages of Scripture focusing intently on Jesus’ turning His face toward Jerusalem and ultimately His cross to atone for the sins of all the world.

While the most popular voices of Americanized Christianity have eliminated any talk of the cross and Christ’s suffering on that cursed tree in our stead for a false assurance relying of their own good works and intentions as well as changing the world with visioned purpose, Lent for the more liturgically minded is a time of looking to the cross with confidence and through the eyes of faith; seeing God’s love on full display in that all the Father’s wrath has been propitiated through the sacrifice of the Son.

Lent for me has never really been a somber time of the year. It has however been a chance to stop (or at least turn down a bit) my own sinful narcissism and look, as we are called to do, to Jesus and what He did and continues to do for us each and every day. This is especially pertinent when we gather together in His name to hear the Word preached faithfully and receive the Sacraments rightfully administered.

Any season, week, or day of the liturgical church year that is able to focus our eyes back on the Crucified and Risen Savior is not a somber occasion but rather a joyous one. Yes, the depths of our sins become more apparent as the blameless one takes all our sins upon Himself at Golgotha to reconcile us with the God the Father but that is the tremendous depth of our Lord’s grace and love for His wayward children. The wonderful thing about Lenten hymnody, whether it’s from the pen of Heermann, Gerhardt, or any of a multitude of fine church musicians, is that what at first glance appears to be dark or somber, when seen through the eyes of faith, is really a proper understanding of how far a merciful Lord will go to redeem those who He loves. That salvific love hidden in the form of a cross is joy to Christian, even in the season of Lent.

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Nice. Happy Lent, Frank. :)

I agree. The dark and somber is there, but only to be set in contrast with the increased heights of Gospel proclamation, and joyful knowledge of sins forgiven. Lent is a time where the Law/Gospel polarity appears with greatest intensity.

Without good Law/Gospel preaching on a regular basis, a Christian will be timid in approaching the sufferings and death of Christ just because it will be a rather alien topic. If one holds that the Lord's Supper is all about sitting and thinking about what rotten sinners we are but not receiving absolution, any Lenten focus is going to be utterly Law-oriented, and rather depressing. During Lent it becomes hard to convince ourselves that we're doing a pretty good job pulling ourselves up the sanctification scale by our biblical principles for living.

That,Frank,was very well said.
Still for me the need to be in dark reflection, particularly this coming week, makes the joy come to me on Easter when we celebrated the accomplished Resurrection, the accomplished Grace, the accomplished Atonement. How could one who Was/Is God, bear to be separated from God? In addition to the shameful humiliating agony of body, he suffered the unthinkable separation from the Father so we would never have to. I need Lent, particularly Good Friday, to remind me that Easter joy came at such a dear cost.

Anne, one of the nice things about my particular congregation is that Christ and His cross are at the very center of both our theology as well as our worship. This is true no matter what time of the church year we are in. Whether it’s Advent, Lent, or Pentecost it makes no difference; we hear Christ and Him crucified preached. I would hope you hear about Christ and His work every Sunday as well.
There are a good number of folks that want a Jesus without a cross. The question then becomes; what good does that Jesus do? Myself, I want a Jesus that actually does something for me, and you as well; in that He takes all our sins that should condemn us to the fate He bears and propitiates the righteous wrath of YHWH and not as some moral example or life coach that so many have turned Jesus Christ into.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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