A Look at Lent

Just recently we have finished our 40 days of focused prayer for the cities of the Mesoamerica Region. Every January we begin the calendar year by asking the Lord to begin a genesis in us and in the urban populations around the world.  Let us continue to intercede for these cities, and may we give and serve sacrificially in order to witness their transformation!

In 2018, those 40 days ended just a few days before another 40-day experience begins.  In the Christian calendar, this upcoming Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  This is a significant season where we as Christ-followers do just that: we follow Christ, and we follow him specifically to the cross.

Our friends at A Plain Account have shared a description of Lent (below) that I hope will prove helpful to you and your congregation during this time.

Lent is a period of fasting and sorrow for our sin in preparation for the celebration of Easter. The purple colors that decorate many sanctuaries in this season represent sorrow, mourning, and suffering. However, purple is also a royal color, reminding us of the sacrifice of our King, Jesus.

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Lent is an exceedingly ancient custom. There is tradition that suggests the original Apostles instituted the practice.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Lent lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays. Ash represents our repentance, our sorrow for our sins, and our mortality. The period of 40 is common in the Bible, associated with Moses, Elijah, Noah, Jonah, Jesus, and others. Ash represents the death and destruction caused by sin. To receive an anointing of ash is a sign of repentance.

During this time people often fast from something such as chocolate, TV, or eating meat.  The purpose of a fast is to heighten your awareness of the presence of God. You also might consider adding something to your life during Lent like a spiritual discipline or being more generous. It can be a great way to begin a good habit.

Lent concludes with Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday (the Triumphal Entry) and includes Maundy Thursday (when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (a day of deep sadness at Christ’s death).

During Lent we recognize our need, and we repent of our sinfulness. The essence of sin is broken relationship. It is when we say “no” to God’s call to love at each moment. Even in this somber time of the year the Resurrection is in the background. There is hope. There is forgiveness. Easter is coming.

Joseph of Arimathea

By Scott Armstrong

There are always those within any institution that, after the institution has become outdated and ineffective, choose a different path. They work within the establishment and respect all of its levels of hierarchy and protocol. However, they steadily clash with the great monolith in order to jumpstart a movement. They are often criticized for their positions.

And so we find Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, offering to bury Jesus Christ, the very threat to the Jewish government.

On one occasion this Jesus had stood in the synagogue and read from the prophet: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” A lot of nodding heads that day, until the Proclaimer issued an audacious proclamation: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Joseph’s contemporaries went ballistic at that, and he was offended, too. But there was an almost-forgotten hope in Joseph that leapt up and took his breath away as well.

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There was something about how he gave dignity to women who had been forgotten, looking at them lovingly, with no agenda. There was something about the way he laughed with children that caused Joseph to think, “What if Yahweh is different from what I was always taught?”

Even when Jesus was lambasting Joseph’s own leadership council, there was something about his words that rang true to Joseph. Could he be the Messiah?

Thus, in the chaos of all that was happening in Jerusalem, this same Joseph obeyed the stirring in his heart after the crucifixion of Jesus and went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body. It takes courage to go to a corrupt ruler like Pilate and make any request, but especially for the corpse of the man who had caused the whole city to riot. And yet, Joseph’s boldness was even greater due to the barrage of hatred he was to receive from his own religious Council. His reputation in tatters, his influence called into question, tradition tells us he was later imprisoned and beaten for his actions.

Even as he perhaps foresaw the sacrifice his own decision would entail, the sacrifice of the man he started to lower from the tree began to weigh heavily on him. Jesus’ bloody feet and hands blotched Joseph’s comfortable clothing. Tearfully he cleaned the wounds and honored the deceased by wrapping him carefully in new, linen cloth. As hard as he tried, the fabric still stuck to the wounds, and the crimson stains soaked through the pure linen.

The emotions of the moment overwhelmed Joseph.

He had wanted to honor Jesus, and yet, for the first time in his illustrious life, he truly felt honored.

He had come to help, and yet, he had been helped.

He had longed in his sorrow to know the Christ, but he also ended up being known by the man of sorrows.

And as he mournfully hurried to prepare the body for burial before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea met Jesus of Nazareth for the first time.

There was no need for secrecy anymore. He who had removed Jesus from the cross decided to take up his own.