by Harvey Brown
One week ago the western Church celebrated Easter—or if you prefer, Resurrection Sunday. The Eastern Church (Orthodox) will celebrate on May 1. Resurrection Sunday is preceded by six weeks of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Maundy Thursday. Holy Week culminates in the greatest of all celebrations, Easter Sunday.
Shortly after Marilyn and I were married (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), I heard a television preacher on a tirade against churches that recognized the season of Lent. “If you can show me a single place where Lent is mentioned in the Bible, I’ll give you $10,000!”
My quick search in the King James Bible (the most used English language Scripture of that day) led me to Jeremiah 15:10, part of which reads “… I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury….” That’s not just a single place where “lent” is mentioned. It’s a double mention in a single verse.
I didn’t bother to let the preacher know. I doubted he would stand by his challenge.
Lent really is a challenge, and a good one for us to recognize and stand by. Those six weeks before Easter can serve as a conscious reminder of Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him. If we are crucified with Christ, we will have died to ourselves and begun walking in Resurrection power as true Easter people.
For centuries much of the Church has honored the season of Lent as a time of reflection, denial of the flesh, and preparation of the human heart for the true celebration of the Resurrection. Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.
In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it’s unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism. Nonetheless, it soon encompassed the whole Church.
It seems to me that an opportunity to grow in grace has been lost for many in the modern, growing, evangelical church who are disconnected from the Lenten traditions— especially since Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same.
For much of twenty-first century culture, these changes have resulted in the loss of the true significance of the season through which we have just come. In the same way as Christmas, Easter has been subsumed by symbols and non-religious traditions (think jolly old Saint Nick and the Easter Bunny… although I will gladly accept a 65% cacao dark chocolate candy rabbit). Regrettably, these secular holiday observances around Easter have obscured the Truth: Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
For over two centuries, the first song in the book of hymns of the Methodist Church has been “O for a thousand tongues to sing.” The words of the fourth stanza mirror the reality of Resurrection life for hymn writer Charles Wesley:
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
I have always thought of breaking the power of canceled sin in two ways. The first is in regard to my own sin. It is absolutely true that the cross of Christ settled once and for all everything that needed to be done to atone for our sins. Sin’s power was canceled at Calvary. But having the application of this forgiveness in my life—the breaking of the power of sin—only happened at the time that I accepted Christ. Once I knew Him, the sin canceled on Calvary could no longer accuse and condemn me. The power of sin was broken and no longer could hold me in bondage. I was born again, and released from the entombment of living death to become alive in Christ.
The second way to think about breaking the power of canceled sin is in breaking the power of others’ sins against me. I might remember the events and the specific occurrence of some offense, but that memory—and its power to control my thoughts and actions—no longer can exert any influence over my life. As Lewis Smedes says, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
We believers in the Risen Lord carry the DNA of the joyous reality of Resurrection. We have become year-long, day-by-day witnesses to Him who is Life. Hopefully (in its most literal sense) we are infectious carriers of the Marian message: “I have been to the tomb, and He is not there.” HALLELUJAH!