As one raised and trained in non-liturgical, evangelical, and Pentecostal environments, the observance of Lent has never been much on my religious radar.
I recall seeing some kids in school or friends at work that showed up one day with ashen crosses marked on their foreheads. Some seemed a little embarrassed if I commented on it. Others quietly explained this is something they do in their church on “Ash Wednesday.” Apparently, it marks the six-week season that culminates with Christ’s resurrection, which is observed on Easter Sunday. During those next weeks, some might say they had given up this or that (usually a certain food, beverage or activity) “for Lent.”
This religious holy day and practiced deprivation are not mentioned in the Bible. But, as a structured reminder of the many biblical events which occurred in the weeks just before Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, it may serve to help reflect on His determined pathway to Calvary. I’m open to learning from the observance of Lent. How about you?
For instance, the observance of Lent may help even devoted disciples to think anew about what Jesus’ death means for us today and in the future. As we contemplate afresh Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection, we can rejoice, in anticipation of the place which He is preparing for His people (John 14:6), who have sincerely repented of their sins and received His promise of eternal life (John 3:16-17).
Lent can prepare us to celebrate more fully our complete salvation. We have been saved from the guilt of our sins, in the past. We are being saved from the power of sin, in the present. And, we will be saved from the very presence of sin, in heaven’s eternal future. Therefore, Lent can help us better appreciate our complete salvation and also serve a threefold gospel purpose.
First, the application of the ashes can…
Remind us of our mortality and accountability to God. Our lives here on earth are brief. We all must die and ultimately our earthly bodies are destined to disintegrate. As God explained to Adam, “…For dust you are, and to dust you shall return ” (Gen. 3:19). We should, in the days and years left to us, focus on developing our souls and spirits, which will not die.
We can experience a symbolic and practical reminder of this truth each Ash Wednesday, as a priest or pastor dips his/her finger into a bowl of ashes and marks the sign of the cross on each forehead, along with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Second, the events of Ash Wednesday can give us occasion to witness to the fact that we are followers of Jesus Christ, who said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). The ashen mark of the cross can become a wordless testimony to a godless world. It may open opportunities where we can give testimony of “a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15).
In preparation for these potential witnessing opportunities, I suggest you might want to develop your own 30-second “elevator pitch.” This is what a salesman might prepare to share who he is, what he does, and how he can help you reach the desired goal—in the short time he might have a captive audience in a brief elevator ride. You may want to flesh out a brief version of your own personal testimony around this outline:
- Before I became a follower of Jesus, I…
- How I became a follower of Jesus was…
- Since I became a follower of Jesus, my life has changed in these ways…
A third way Lent can serve a gospel purpose is an occasion for reviewed regret and remorse. One author says, “Penitence is primarily what Lent is about.” The service usually includes readings of repentance from Psalm 51 and from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-18).
Truly, God has given us the promise of forgiveness (1 John 1:9), along with a “future and a hope” in Christ. But as long as we live in this fallen world, we will be tempted and tried; we may suffer injustice and hurt. Our own sins and selfishness often contribute to the same for others.
During the Lenten season, we can reflect on our own sins and shortcomings, along with the brevity of our mortal lives. As we honor Christ for His friendship and His sacrifice for us, we can rejoice even more at the celebration of His glorious Resurrection, where He became victorious over sin and Satan, for us!
Lent leads us to Christ’s passion and the cross. It was on a Friday, but Resurrection Sunday was coming! Hallelujah!!