Today, Wednesday, February 14, is a very special day. Why? Well, first of all it’s another Wednesday where many of us will gather together for a meal and then deepen our walk with Christ in various small groups. That, in and of itself, is good enough reason to be excited about today.
Of course, today is also Valentine’s Day ... the day we celebrate love. This celebration may involve candy, flowers, cards, food, etc. but hopefully much more than these token gifts. True love is best expressed in both words and sacrificial actions. I trust today you will extend your love toward a special person in your life and also enjoy the love that is given to you.
Today also marks the beginning of Lent. While I know most of us probably didn’t grow up in traditions that made much of Lent … except to wonder why the Catholics and Episcopals were so weird … it is nevertheless a special time on the church calendar. Lent is calculated to begin 40 days prior to Easter (but not including Sundays). While it’s generally considered a time of repentance and mourning over our sin, it’s also a time of great joy and hope in the new life we receive as a result of Christ’s death. It’s also joyous in that it anticipates its conclusion in the glorious resurrection of Christ. Lent begins on what is called Ash Wednesday (that’s today). Today we remember our sinfulness, repent, ask for God’s forgiveness, and remember that it comes only at the infinite cost of Jesus’ death on the cross. Historically some churches have held services to recognize this time of repentance by applying ashes on their foreheads in the shape of the cross (several Scriptural passages speak of ashes and sackcloth). Sometimes during Lent believers give up a normal part of their daily routine to remind them of the sacrifice that Christ made – maybe a food item, particular entertainment, etc. The idea is that when you feel that hunger pain or desire to have or do whatever it is you've given up it will remind you of the even greater need you have of Jesus Christ. Some may even take the money that was saved by making this sacrifice and use it for some sort of ministry to the poor. But whatever a believer does or doesn’t do, it’s still the season of the year that leads us to Easter.
There is a danger here … Lent is not a time for false humility or prideful self-sacrifice. It’s not a time to draw attention to yourself and/or whatever it is you are doing to show how spiritual you are. It’s not to display your amazing self-discipline. It’s not to boast in your superior faith as compared to others. It’s not a time to try out a new diet plan and expect God to bless it since you're "doing it for Jesus." Rather, Lent is a time for humility, for contemplation of and mourning over your sinfulness, for repentance, for remembering the horrific death of Jesus that was required to pay for your sin. Yet it is not a time of despair because Lent culminates in Easter, the grand and glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first-fruit and guarantee of your own resurrection unto eternal life.
I trust you can enjoy this very special day - a day to celebrate, even with others tonight, the ultimate love expressed and demonstrated to us sinners by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let's spend these next 40 days in a posture of humility and repentance as we remember that we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior ... and that we have the perfect, and only, One in Jesus Christ.