March 18, 2018: 5th Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Savior,  You always have time, spend time, and make time for us.  You never turn us away when we are in need. All of this is a product of Your boundless love for us.  Today we ask You to inflame our hearts so that we make time for You, as well. Every Lenten season You repeat that question: “Could you not watch with me one hour?”  As we finish this Lenten cycle, move all of us to answer that question with a resounding: YES I Can! Amen


Text:  selected texts explained throughout the homily

Dearly Beloved By Christ:  

It’s been a hard last few weeks of Lent.  In all our history, the church has never had to cancel 2 Lenten services in a row!  Hopefully God’s big breath will blow the next one out to sea this week! Anyway, it struck me that many of you probably don’t know the history of Lent, why we have mid-week services, and the like.  So, instead of ignoring such ignorance, today let’s discover the truths behind Lent.


What’s the highlight of the Christian church year?  EASTER! From that first Sunday after Easter first occurred, Christians celebrated it.  In fact, that’s why they picked Sunday as their holy day of rest—Sunday marked the Lord’s resurrection.  Within the lifetime of some of the apostles, Palm Sunday and Holy Week commemorations were also begun. Then, since Christ suffered: “Forty days and forty nights in the wilderness being tempted by the devil” Christians decided on setting aside the 40 days of Lent to prepare the soul to meet the resurrected Christ on Easter.  By the year 130 AD this was becoming commonly accepted practice. BTW, 40 seems to be a holy number in Scripture: Moses was on Mt. Sinai 40 days and nights, the great flood rained down its deluge for 40 days, and Christ’s Ascension occurred 40 days after Easter.

Remember Christ saying: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”?  Recall Him being tempted by Satan 3 times? And most importantly, Jesus resisted Satan and then banished Him. For us to do likewise, repentance is needed because we’re not as strong as Jesus.  We need to go to Him with our hurting hearts and beg for His help. The ancient way of showing repentance was to walk around with ashes on your head while wearing sackcloth. So, the early Christians decided to mark the start of Lent, the major repentance season of the church, with Ash Wednesday—40 days before Easter not counting the Sundays.  


Because people relate to externals and understand symbolism,  Christians not only wore ashes but also started to deny themselves certain pleasurable things during this season of Lent.  It’s a very literal interpretation of: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Since rich food was universally enjoyed because it marked indulgence, in subsequent years Christians started to abstain from eating certain items during Lent.  Thereafter, other such “vices” were put on hold for those 40 days. It was a physical reminder of the spiritual. We don’t insist on any of this since repentance is primarily about the spiritual.  But if you wish to “give something up for Lent” you certainly may in Christian liberty. Unfortunately, too many people give little vices up, but then also give up going to church, as well! They never read the Passion History from John’s Gospel.  They never would dream of going to a Lenten service. Instead they believe their abstaining from something will magically inoculate them with a smile from the Almighty. Unfortunately, this is nothing more than the “I earned brownie points with God” idolatry. It’s just so sad.   

That brings up mid-week Lenten worship services—you know, the ones we had prior to the nor’easter blitz!  In ancient times (the 400’s to the 1500’s and beyond) Christian churches held services literally every day.  This was especially true of the cathedrals. So, during Lent, worship that focused on repentance was pre-eminent.  Some of that changed among the Protestant churches—especially when settlers came over to America. I cannot pin down a date when mid-week Lenten worship began in this country, but it seems to have happened in the last 100 years or so.  Surely the ease of travel assisted this. Wednesday night tends to be the time of choice, probably since it coincides with Ash Wednesday, although some churches decide on a different night.


The original Lenten texts appear to have been all based on the 10 commandments.  This blunt preaching of the Law would obviously begin the working of repentance. In our lifetimes such preaching series have come to the fore as a change of pace from Sunday morning.  I have one old such series called: “Glorified in His Passion” which dates back over 100 years! Giving up one hour of TV watching to ponder the fate of your soul, your lostness, and how Christ found you and proved His love for you on the cross—the story of Lent—graphically pounds into us exactly what it means to be a Christian.  Today, midweek Lent is sparsely attended due to social constraints. But it is rich in centuries of blessing and beyond!….

This point was driven home in the early years after the apostles went to heaven.  New confirmands to the church were given intense instruction into the faith during the 40 days of Lent.  Then on Easter Eve, after midnight, dressed in white robes they would be baptized into Christ and into His Church.  This service was reminder of St. Paul’s words in Romans 6: “We were buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that just as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life.”

My point in preaching about this today is: Don’t Take Lent For Granted!  Don’t view it as an afterthought to your spiritual life. The season is contemplative and midweek services match that mood.  And each Lenten message makes a lasting impact. I know because I recently caught up with a member from 20 years ago. He told me that he had given up  alcohol for Lent. I asked: “When did you start doing that? You never used to think about such things.” To which he replied: “The last year I was at Pinewood for a Lenten service you had a sermon graphically describing the crucifixion.  It was so jarring that it stuck with me and so every Lent I try to give up something because my Lord gave up so much for me.”

Folks, that is every preachers dream!—To make that kind of impact during Lent is fabulous.  So, with improving weather this week, come to the feast of Christ’s cross and feed your soul with His fabulous food!  Amen