From the Book of Common Prayer

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a  season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

How do we begin and where do we aim our journey of Lent?  I believe we can find the answer when we look at the beginning of Jesus’ own journey of Lent.  His Lenten journey was not only the 40 day fast in the wilderness but was the entire trek from his baptism to the cross.  Jesus began his Lent when he was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  At this pinnacle of his life, Jesus accepted the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the Father’s will to enter testing in the desolate place of the fallen world.  Jesus could have done anything as the Spirit-empowered, beloved Son of God.  He could have gone into the heart of Rome and begun to reign.  He could have ascended to heaven.  He could have indulged in whatever the flesh desires.  Rather, he began his self-denial of Lent.  His step toward the wilderness was a step toward the cross followed by one after the other into the desolation of sin and death. 

Lest we be deceived into thinking that Lent is an arbitrary suffering for the sake of itself or that the cross is the end of the story, we look to the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus’ journey of self-denial and resisting temptation takes him to the cross of sin and death and to the resurrection from the dead.  Likewise, our Lenten journey begins and aims at the cross and the resurrection.    It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will die and be buried; it is also in Jerusalem where Jesus will rise from the dead.

Satan tempts Jesus to doubt his relationship with the Father and to entice him with promises of fulfillment and happiness.  Whereas at his baptism the Father embraced the Son, in his wilderness temptation the Son embraces the Father and the Father’s will.

He returns from the desert “in the power of the Spirit.”  His ministry begins demonstrated by miracles, authority over Satan and demons, authoritative teaching and love for people.  He begins his mission, that is still toward the cross and resurrection, by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15)

In Jesus’ proclamation, his command of repentance coincides with the command to believe in the gospel—the good news of salvation in and through himself.  This gospel becomes defined by the early church as the salvation story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1.1).

No matter how it has come to be characterized, repentance is best defined as a turning or changing of one’s life.  Christian repentance involves a grace-empowered turning away from temporal attachments toward Jesus Christ and toward the kingdom of God which is present in Jesus.  The season of Lent only makes sense if our eyes, heart and mind are on the crucified and risen One in order to cling to him and to be conformed to his image.

The term “gospel” means good news and glad tidings.  We are not called to turn from this world to something of similar value as it.  We are embracing good news of great joy. (Lk 2:10) We are turning toward eternal life and rewards in a kingdom that will one day be the only kingdom that exists.  What we repent of and what we turn to fail to balance.  The scales are infinitely weighed in favor of the kingdom of God and salvation.

The Anglican Church’s traditional Ash Wednesday gospel reading is from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.  This series of teachings of Jesus exhorts his audience to give up the rewards of this world for the rewards that come from the Father and exist in the eternal kingdom of God.  That is what Lent entails—a turning from the attachments of this world whatever they may be in order to receive the rewards that come from an intimate relationship to the Father who sees all and alone gives eternal rewards.

Jesus says and repeats that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  He encourages us to give up storing treasures in this world that will dissolve and disappear—treasures of the world will be destroyed, stolen, lost or consumed no matter how you hold onto them.  Rather, he offers eternal treasures in heaven.  Jesus knows that this first heaven and earth will pass away, and a new heaven and a new earth will come.  Lent involves seeking and receiving the treasures that belong to the new heaven and new earth—the holy city, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).

So let’s begin our Lenten journey acknowledging the goodness of God–that he is, in fact, a God who rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)  At the center of our journey is the One we follow, Jesus Christ.  As we follow him, we affirm God’s grace and love demonstrated in the gift of Jesus.  We affirm the subsequent truth that the Father who gave us his one and only Son also graciously gives us all things. (Romans 8:32)

We give up the lesser to receive the greater.  We let go of the temporal to hold onto the eternal.  We turn a deaf ear to deception to grasp the truth.  We turn from the broad road to destruction to take one step after the other on the narrow road to life.  As it did for Jesus, that narrow road to life leads first to the cross of self-dying, self-denial, suffering and sacrifice for the glory of God.  But just like repentance does not occur in isolation without the gospel and kingdom, the cross does not occur without the assurance of the Easter resurrection.  The Easter resurrection would never have come if the Christ was not crucified on the cross; we don’t enter the kingdom of God and receive salvation unless we repent of our sins.

What is God calling you to do during this Lenten season?  We know that it will be congruent with Jesus’ call to repent and believe the good news of himself and his kingdom.  If we give up earthly things during this Lent, may we also take up heavenly things and live according to our citizenship in heaven.  This Lent, may our lives anticipate the new earth and the new heavens by living according to God’s rule now.  In that city, the light will be the light of God who dwells in the midst of it.  The water will be the water of eternal life.  The air will flow from the leaves of the tree of Life that are for our healing.  The food will be the fruit of the tree of life that gives abundant life.

Something that is often overlooked when it comes to repentance and especially during the time of Lent is that as we turn to God he heals us.  We are repenting (turning from and giving up) of those sinful things that cause death which is the punishment for sin.  When we turn to God in repentance, God heals our woundedness and brokenness.

John records Jesus citing Isaiah 6:10, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”  (Jn 12:40)  In our repentance and turning to Jesus, our eyes our being opened, our hearts softened and enlightened, and we are being healed spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.   The Father is a rewarder of those who seek him and serve him.  He rewards us with what only he can give…eternal, abundant life and the treasures of heaven.


ash wed prayer