One of my first sermons was on the first Sunday of Advent back in November, and I talked about the history and traditions of Advent. Today it is the first Sunday of Lent, so I’m going to talk briefly about the history and traditions of Lent.
First thought, I want to point out that we have done a great job preparing for Lent this past week. Our 99th Pancake Day event last Tuesday was our combined church’s best effort to prepare the community of Montesano for Lent. Everyone did a great job with this day and we ended up with almost $1100 to give to Coastal Harvest from this day—a new record for us. We also gave away 100 compact fluorescent light bulbs along with ways for people to save energy and recycle. We had also information available for everyone attending about Shrove Tuesday and what it means in our Christian year. All of these activities show our commitment to be God’s people in this community.
Lent is the forty-day-long liturgical season of fasting and prayer before Easter. The number forty has many Biblical references: God made it rain for forty days and forty nights in the days of Noah (this flood story preceded what we heard in the first reading today--where God made his covenant with Noah with the sign of the rainbow); Moses spent forty days onMount Sinai with God; Elijah spent forty days and nights walking to Mount Horeb; the Hebrew people wandered forty years traveling to the Promised Land; Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh forty days in which to repent. It is the traditional belief that Jesus lay for forty hours in the tomb which led to the forty hours of total fast that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church.
The season of Lent originated in the fourth century; it begins on Ash Wednesday and climaxes during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concludes Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. But since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was the time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community. As was pointed out by Lorraine the other night after the Ash Wednesday service (for Jeff’s benefit), the six Sundaysin Lent are not counted among the forty days because each Sunday represents kind of a "mini-Easter", a celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death.
Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. The forty days of Lent is connected with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling, as we heard in our Gospel reading today. Christians today can use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance. This Lenten season is equal only to the season of Advent in importance in the Christian year, and is part of the second major grouping of Christian festivals and sacred time that includes Holy Week, Easter, andPentecost.
Purple is the symbolic color used in our churches throughout Lent, for our lectern/pulpit and altar frontals. Purple is used for two reasons: first because it is associated with mourning and so it anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and second because purple is the color associated with royalty, and it celebrates Christ's resurrection and sovereignty.
For each one of us in this church, what does this season mean to us? Having grown up in the Episcopal Church I have experienced many Lenten seasons and worked with lots of different Lenten programs and studies, in wide ranging degrees of so-called success or failure. Examples have been: studies of various books to help with daily disciplines, like reading the Bible, prayer, and self examination; meeting in small groups to discuss our Lenten disciplines and how to focus our efforts as Christians better in the world; and just using various tools to help in our daily disciplines during Lent. I have to admit none of these involved any real fasting like Jesus or any of the early Christians did. Maybe some of the men here can relate to this if they have tried to do Lenten disciples or maybe it is just me; I haven’t even really given up anything much for Lent--I just never figured out very well how to decide what to give up and how that would help me with my Lenten discipline. This certainly can be a struggle to do. Having said that, I do believe that this time of Lent can be when we work on our Christian faith and daily offerings to God and help each other to become stronger members of this church and its community of believers.
In our Total Common Ministry community here at St. Mark’s, we commit ourselves to seek to honor the uniqueness of each baptized person in our church. We understand that the responsibility for mission and ministry in this place belongs to all of us. And, we seek together to develop the ministry of all the baptized in this community.
We sometimes use the term Mutual Ministry to describe this model of community. It is a partnership between God and God’s people here. Shared leadership in our community draws upon each one of our unique set of gifts, encouraging and nurturing this partnership among all of God’s people here.
I think how this model of ministry we have here at St. Mark’s can be really helpful in Lent is that since we all are in this partnership with God together, we all are equals in helping one another to strive to improve ourselves in this season. The priests, worship leaders, those who do hospitality, pastoral care, administer, read during the services—everyone is empowered to help the others to carry out whatever each of us decides to do for Lent to grow and walk our journeys in faith.
I encourage you all to listen to each other about our own ideas for our Lenten disciplines and studies, and to support each other as we carry them out for the next 40 days or so, in preparation for the wondrous time of Easter.
To close, I have prepared the calendars for March for all of you to pick up today. There is a list of fasts and feasts thoughts found by Lorraine sometime last year that I hope is helpful for each of you. A couple of these thoughts I found really thought provoking to me; they are to:
Fast from lethargy; Feast on enthusiasm, and
Fast from the thoughts that weaken; Feast on promises that inspire.
Let us pray: Gentle God, during this time of fasting and feasting, gift us with Your Presence, so we can be a gift to each other in carrying out your work. Amen.