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FEBRUARY 2018 NEWSLETTER

LENT BEGINS SHORTLY

I know that we just put away the Christmas decorations, but Lent comes relatively early this year. It begins on February 14 and will last through the end of March. You can help get us ready for Lent by bringing your palm branches from last year to church on one of the first two Sundays of the month, February 4 or 11. We “recycle” the palm branches into ashes for our Ash Wednesday service.

DISCIPLESHIP ACCORDING TO JESUS

Lent is a time when we do two things: we focus more intensely on the way that Christ saved us through His holy life and sacrificial death, and we take more seriously Christ’s invitation to find our life in Him rather than in the things that distract us or mislead us. Thus, it is meant to be a time for both deepening our trust in Christ as our Savior and bearing the fruit of that faith in our actions.

This year’s Lenten midweek services will work our way through the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5-7. It is a great summary of all that our Lord has to teach us about discipleship (following Him). Every year we read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, but this year we will read the rest of it over the course of the five midweek Lenten services that follow.

LENTEN MIDWEEK SCHEDULE

Here are the particulars of what you need to know about Lenten worship between now and Easter (April 1):

  • The brief Wednesday Vespers will be replaced by a longer Lenten midweek worship service. During Holy Week the Wednesday Vespers will be dropped because there are three other evening services that week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).
  • All worship services will be held upstairs in the main sanctuary.
  • Ash Wednesday is February 14. There will be a service at 7:30 p.m. The service will include the imposition of ashes and Holy Communion.
  • Lenten midweek services will be held on the five following Wednesdays (February 21, 28; March 7, 14, and 21), all at 7:30 p.m. Each service will last approximately forty-five minutes.
  • The theme for all the midweek Lenten services this year will be “Discipleship According to our Jesus” (see the previous article). The specific themes for each week will be as follows:

1.      February 14 (Ash Wednesday): “Three Spiritual Disciplines” (Matthew 6:1-21)

2.      February 21: “The Blessed Life” (Matthew 5:1-20)

3.      February 28: “Ethics in God’s Kingdom” (Matthew 5:21-48)

4.      March 7: “Worry and Trust” (Matthew 6:25-34)

5.      March 14: “Life with God and our Neighbors” (Matthew 7:1-13)

6.      March 21: “Discipleship in Real Life” (Matthew 7:14-28)

  • Holy Week services (Go ahead and mark your calendar!) will be at 7:30 p.m. on Maundy Thursday (March 29), Good Friday (March 30), and the Vigil of Easter (March 31).
  • A Lenten devotional booklet will be available from February 4 onwards.

THEOLOGY TODAY DISCUSSION GROUP

Our Theology Today study group will meet on Sunday, January 28, after church, to discuss pages 489-519 (chapters 29 through 31) of The Church from Age to Age. It will then meet on February 25 to discuss pages 523-571 (chapters 32 and 33) of the same book. Chapter 32 looks at the church conflicts that developed after the Reformation, as Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and other Protestants each tried to advance their cause, sometimes getting entangled by the politics and ambitions of the rising nation-states. Chapter 33 explains the development of theology in the age of orthodoxy, as well as the musical and artistic achievements of that era.

q and a about LENT

From December 2016 through this past spring we ran a series in the newsletter answering many questions about the church year. Here is a shortened version of some questions we asked last March, when we explored the meaning of Lent.

What is Lent? Lent is the season before Easter. It started in the early centuries of Christianity as a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter. During this time the catechumens (those taking instruction in the Christian faith) were asked to step up their studies. Those already baptized were asked to renew their struggle against sin and temptation. All of this is done with our eyes on the backdrop of the cross, where Christ suffered and died, through whom we have the victory over sin and guilt.

How long is Lent? Lent was originally forty hours long, but eventually that was seen as too short a time and it was lengthened to forty days, which correspond to the forty days our Lord spent in the wilderness. See Matthew 4:1-11.

Wait. I can count. There are 46 days from February 14 to March 31, from the beginning to the end of Lent this year. Can’t the church do math? Lent is commonly a time of fasting, and fasting is forbidden on Sundays. Thus, the church has never included the Sundays in the period of Lent.

Is the entire season of Lent essentially the same, or are there certain emphases in different parts of Lent? Some Christians treat Lent as if it were one long, extended Good Friday, but that was certainly not the intention. It is really only the last week of Lent (Holy Week) where we focus on Christ’s death as well as the events that led up to it. The weeks before then are not meant to be an overly somber period of time, but is meant to be a season of spiritual growth in the light of Christ’s holy life, death, and resurrection.

The very end of the Lenten season (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) form the Triduum, a period of three days. I will have more to say about them in the March newsletter.

Why do we use violet (purple)? Violet had two meanings in the ancient world. First, it was associated with royalty because only the well-to-do could afford violet dye. (The only way to dye clothes violet in the ancient world was to use the shells of a somewhat uncommon mollusk found only in Lebanon.) It is appropriate that we use violet at this time because Christ is our king, even when His throne was the cross. Second, violet is a somber color, one associated with repentance. It is in keeping with the sentiment of the season.

I notice that in Lent we veil some items, such as the crucifix and the statues of Peter and Paul. Why is that? During Lent we remember that Christ veiled His glory so that He could accomplish the work of our redemption. And so we veil some of the artwork so that we might appreciate what it proclaims all the more when it is unveiled at the end of Lent.

I also notice that we don’t sing anything with Alleluia in it. Why is that? Alleluia means “Praise the LORD” in Hebrew. It is an exuberant form of praise and thus seems out of character for the season of Lent. Therefore, hymns with Alleluia are typically not sung during Lent. The Alleluia verse before the reading of the Gospel is replaced by the Tract, which is a verse of Scripture without any alleluias before or after it.

My Roman Catholic neighbors observe Lent by fasting, giving something up, and avoiding meat on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday. Should we do the same? Lutheranism rightly teaches that the most important thing in a Christian’s life is repentance and faith. We also do well to remember that no one should be condemned for failing to observe certain customs imposed by man. Thus, we do not bind consciences in this matter. That said, we are not against outward observances either, as long as we are clear that they do not justify us but simply serve to discipline the body. There is some value in dedicating oneself to fasting and prayer, two disciplines commended to us by our Lord, and so we should not automatically rule them out as deceitful inventions of a wayward pope.

As Christians who live in gospel freedom, we are free to adopt whatever practices we find helpful. We chastise neither those who embrace certain customs nor those who refrain from doing so. Whether you fast or not, whether you give up something for Lent or not, you must do it for the Lord and grant the same freedom to other Christians who are doing the opposite also for the Lord. See Romans 14:5-12.

Why do we impose ashes on Ash Wednesday? In ancient times people poured ashes on their head as a sign of sorrow. Ashes are placed on our foreheads on the first day of Lent as a sign of our repentance for sin. The ashes are placed in the shape of a cross to remind us that it is not our sorrow for sin that wins us forgiveness, but rather the death of Christ does.