Tuesday, March 8, 2011

LENT: A Renewal for Life

Lent, a time for renewal of life

Last Wednesday Christians of all stripes, convictions, attitudes and degrees of faith began the 40 days of Lent that leads to Easter Sunday. The Resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the “reason for the season,” to use an overused Christmas festival phrase.

In the early churches of the Middle East, the celebration of the resurrection was far more important than the occasion of the Christ child’s birth.

Traditionally the time of Lent began as a time of prayer, meditation and personal desires for spiritual renewal. Gradually some believers gave up a favorite food (one is giving up Facebook) in order to “observe” the event and for some strange reason many still think giving up something up as a way to “prepare for Easter.” (Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and some Protestants encourage their flocks in this manner – make some kind of sacrifice during Lent, as Jesus did when he began his earthly ministry.) With the passage of the centuries superstitions easily got wrapped around Easter as well as Christmas.

"What did you give up for Lent?" Since I grew up as a Baptist, the question held no meaning for me. For the Bible does not mention a season of Lent. In the first century Lent was two or three days of seeking a closer walk with the Lord, preparing the heart for Resurrection Sunday. As the church grew in influence and material power the observance went for weeks, finally settling on a symbolic 40 days.

In my Christian walk it has taken too long to fully appreciate the season leading up to Easter. It is at the very center of the “everlasting life” promised of John the Beloved disciple.

The last few years I have read and appreciated Peter J. Gomes’ books. I was sadden to read of his death at 68 on Feb. 28. His death of stroke complications, at such an early age, is a great loss for Harvard University and all Christian communities. After serving at Tuskegee Institute, he went to Harvard in 1970 and from 1975 the minister of The Memorial Church of Harvard as well as professor of Christian morals.
The Los Angeles Times said Gomes “was never one to let circumstances or the opinions of others dictate his sense of himself. He was a black Republican, a Baptist preacher in a stronghold of secularism, a descendant of escaped slaves who rose to become president of the Pilgrim Society.”

In his book “Strength for the Journey,” Gomes said much that is fitting as we set out on our Lenten journey. He writes: “Our Lord is not indifferent to our anxieties and our needs … Do you think that God does not know you are worried about your grades? Of course not, God hopes you will do something about it.” There is depth in his humor that all good teachers have.

By giving God priority we will gain perspective and everything else will fall into place … one thing that will fall into place is that we realize how much we have been given, how blessed we are at this moment.” He added that Christians suffer from anxiety, but also from amnesia, “forgetting all his benefits.”

In Gomes’ book, “Sermons, Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living,” he called his sermon on Easter, “When Life Begins.” God knows how to get our attention. God does not begin Easter with a peaceful rising of the sun. He begins it with an earthquake! The gospel says, “Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, … the angel of the Lord came down and rolled away the stone and sat on it!

“Easter Christians should realize that we do not have to die to live. You can begin it right now, right here. Live life while you are still alive. Life began for the disciples when they stopped being afraid.” Begin to live for reality as Easter approaches and then nourish God’s presence all year long.

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