The Purpose and Power of Lent

The Power and Purpose of Lent www.annswindell.com

This post is adapted from a piece I wrote originally for RELEVANT Magazine and posted last year.
Click here to read the original article. 

In church tradition, Lent is the season preceding Easter, and it is often set aside as a time of remembrance and repentance. It is a season of preparation, a time of waiting and reflecting.

But is Lent important? Is it worth observing—or at least acknowledging—especially if, like me, you’re not currently part of a liturgical church tradition?

Even after years of not being in a church that intentionally observes Lent, I still think so. Here are some reasons why Lent matters—and how it can point us to the truth of the Gospel in practical, important ways:

Lent Reminds Us That We Need to Repent

Repentance is not an easy pill to swallow; repentance is a call to turn around and away from our sinful ways. First, it means acknowledging that we are sinners, and second, it means saying no to our sin. But repentance is at the very heart of Christianity: we cannot, in fact, follow Jesus without repenting of our way and choosing His way instead (Acts 2:38).

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent. Click To Tweet

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent—and therefore, of our consistent need for a savior. It’s important to remember how desperately we need to be saved from our sin, and that Jesus is the only hope we have to be saved; that reality grounds us in His kindness and goodness.

 Lent Helps Us Pare Down Our Excesses

Historically, Christians have understood Lent as a time when unneeded things are stripped away in order to remind us of our neediness before and for God. Christians still do this today, giving up meat or chocolate, or abstaining from alcohol or watching television.

By taking away things that divert our attention and feed our desires, the season of Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls—and to have our needs met by God first and only.

Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls. Click To Tweet

Lent Points Us to Our Humanity

In college, I was part of a liturgical church in college, and I attended my first Ash Wednesday service. There, I was marked with a cross in ash while hearing the words, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.”

It felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the room; suddenly, I was faced with my own death. As a college student, I rarely thought about my own finiteness, my own frailty. But that declaration over me—that I started from dust and will return to dust—deeply humbled me, in the best of ways.

Lent pointed me back to the truth that all of my value and all of my purpose comes from being a person made in the image of the God who created me and made the way for me to be saved. Apart from Him, I am dust; I am nothing and I have nothing. But because of His great love, my life is worth much more than dust.

Lent Sobers Us—in Order to Prepare Us for Celebration

Lent is a season of reflection—even of mourning—and that attitude flies in the face of the cultural waters most of us swim in. Sobering ourselves by confronting our own brokenness—by pausing our desire to keep things light and easy—is necessary if we want to celebrate the miraculous and life-altering message of Easter.

If we aren’t aware of our sinfulness and need, we won’t be able to comprehend the desperation of Good Friday or the world-changing truth of the Resurrection. Sobering our hearts and minds in preparation for Easter enables us to celebrate more deeply and joyfully, perhaps, than we would have without the solemnness of the season.

Because knowing our true nature, knowing our need for Jesus—makes Easter the best and most necessary Good News we could ever hear.

Read the original article here, at RELEVANT Magazine.

Writing with Grace course www.writingwithgrace.com

Why Christians Need Lent: 4 Reasons it Matters

Why Christians Need LentThis is the start of my newest piece for RELEVANT Magazine.
You can read it here.

Historically, Lent is the season preceding Easter in the church calendar, and it is often observed as a time of reflection and repentance. It is a season of preparation, a time of waiting and remembering.

But is Lent important? Is it worth observing—or at least acknowledging—especially if, like me, you’re not currently part of a liturgical church tradition?

I think so. Here are four reasons Lent matters—and how it can point us to the truth of the Gospel in practical, important ways:

Lent is a Reminder of Our Need to Repent

Repentance is not a sexy word; repentance is a call to turn around and away from our sinful ways. It means first acknowledging that we are sinners, and then saying no to our sin. But repentance is at the very heart of Christianity: we cannot, in fact, follow Jesus without repenting of our way and choosing His way instead (Acts 2:38).

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent. Click To Tweet

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent—and therefore, of our consistent need for a savior. It’s important to remember how desperately we need to be saved from our sin, and that Jesus is the only hope we have to be saved; that reality grounds us in His kindness and goodness.

During Lent, We Pare Down Our Excesses

Traditionally, Christians have understood Lent to be a time when unneeded things are stripped away in order to remind us of our neediness before and for God. Christians still do this today, giving up meat or chocolate, or abstaining from alcohol or watching television.

By taking away things that divert our attention and feed our desires, the season of Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls—and to have our needs met by God first and only.

Read the other two reasons why we need Lent here, at RELEVANT Magazine.

Mardi Gras, Lent, and Jesus

What does Mardi Gras Have to do with Jesus www.annswindell.com

Lent begins this week; it is a season, for Christians, of reflection, of repentance, of remembering the cost of the cross for Christ. It is a season of acknowledging, again, our need for a savior who can rescue us from our untamable sin. 

Lent is a season of acknowledging our need for a savior to rescue us from our untamable sin. Click To Tweet

And tomorrow is Fat Tuesday—more commonly known in its French translation as Mardi Gras. Americans, at least, tend to associate Mardi Gras with parades, with green, yellow, and purple beads, with masks and music and drunkenness. The holiday’s mecca is New Orleans.

But the irony of Mardi Gras—and also the reason it exists—is that it falls on the eve of Lent. Because Lent has historically been a time of fasting and repentance, Mardi Gras is the last day of excess before a season of restriction. Are you giving up chocolate for Lent? Then scarf down not just a piece, but an entire chocolate cake on Fat Tuesday. Are you giving up red meat? Then gorge yourself on hamburgers and steaks before the clock strikes midnight. For when the clock strikes twelve, Lent begins, and we find ourselves like Cinderellas, back in our rags. Our party clothes are gone and it is time to mourn.

This is not really how it works, of course. Mardi Gras revelers party all night, well past the midnight chimes and into Ash Wednesday. But as people of faith, Ash Wednesday is  a day that marks us—figuratively and, in some traditions, literally—for a period of weeks that is meant to change us. Lent: the quiet and repentant season of the Church that seeks to usher in the celebration of Easter. Lent seeks to hush our ravenous appetite for ease and excess and, instead, remind us that the way of Christ is neither of those things. The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the dust of the earth and the pain of a cross. It is the way of truth.

The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the earth & the pain of a cross. Click To Tweet

I am not in a liturgical church tradition now, although I have been in the past. But still, my soul pauses on the edge of Lent. I want to learn the way of Christ more fully, and I want to join him on that journey to the cross. It is not an easy journey; it has never been an easy one. But through his humility and his sacrifice, Jesus showed us the path to the deepest joy: the path of obedience to the Father, the creator and lover of our souls.

If words like obedience and repentance and reflection and sin make us want to turn away–if the thought of sobering ourselves and acknowledging our deep neediness for salvation is challenging–then that is exactly why we need the season of Lent the most. We need to be reminded of our humanity, of our brokenness, of the places in our hearts and minds and bodies that still cling to darkness.

We need Jesus. We need him desperately, because we need to be saved from the darkness that still lingers inside of us. 

We need Jesus because we need to be saved from the darkness that still lingers inside of us. Click To Tweet

And so, let us invite Christ into our lives afresh this Lent. Let us stand on the cusp of these days before Easter and remember why we are so desperate for Easter in the first place: we need new life. We don’t need another holiday or another reason to dress up. We need healing. We need wholeness. We need saving. We need Him. 

Lent rightly reminds us of our need and our neediness.

But Lent also reminds us that our brokenness and need did not keep God away; no, not at all. In fact, it drew him close–so close that he became one of us to save all of us.

That’s the good news of the Gospel, whispered like a secret during the days and weeks of Lent: yes, we are broken and breaking, yes we are full of neediness and hurt. But yes! Christ has come for us, and yes, he has pulled us out of the miry pit. Yes, Christ has paid the price for our lives, and yes–he will come again.

Praise Him.

Good Friday and the Ache in Our Soul: How Jesus Meets Us

This is an adaptation of a post I wrote last year; I still feel this ache at Easter this year…

The Ache in Our Soul- How Jesus Meets Us There

It seems that I tend to travel a lot during the Spring; this year has been no different, with a trip to what will soon become our new home city, a short trip to the Redbud Writer’s Retreat, and a trip down to Dallas this past weekend for a conference. And so, this past weekend was the third weekend in a month that I was away from home—something very odd for me. Michael and I love traveling, but I am a homebody at heart, and I love having consistency in my life.  Yet one of the sweetest things about traveling, for this homebody, is the longing that develops in me when I am away from home. There is a familiar ache that bubbles up, whether I am in Wisconsin, Colorado, or England—the ache for a place where I know the corners of the rooms, the ache for a place where the walls and bed and blankets are familiar, loved, home.

And that feeling knocks on my heart at unexpected moments: when we were in Grand Rapids this past year, for example, my mother drove us past her childhood home, her elementary school, and her family’s church.  My grandpa was a Methodist minister, and so she moved several times as a child, but it was in this city that she started going to school, and her memories of Grand Rapids are vivid. I loved seeing bits of her life through these buildings—the house where she lived, the steps she climbed on her first day of kindergarten, the steeple of the church where my grandfather preached. And although those places were not mine, I felt that old ache flutter again.

C.S. Lewis has written about this ache. In “The Weight of Glory,” he writes,

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

“News from a country we have never yet visited.”

Home.

Easter, which we are looking toward, is about many things. But in one sense, it is about home. It is about Jesus making a way for us to be able to enter the Home that we were created for. It is that “country” we keep hearing news from—that ache that bubbles up, that longing that draws us to beauty and goodness and light. The ache for wholeness, and freedom, and perfection—the ache for heaven.

Jesus is the only one who could become the doorway for us to that Home. His body, broken and torn, became the doorway that allows us to enter in and walk into right relationship with God. And through the doorframe of that empty tomb–his resurrection–we get to enter into that home with him, forever. He crossed the threshold from death to life and held the door open for us, too.

Christ's body, broken and torn, became the doorway that allows us to enter into right relationship… Click To Tweet

Home. It is what we long for, ache for, desire. In these days of Holy Week leading up to Easter, we can remember afresh that because of the great cost Christ paid for us on the cross, and because of the great miracle of his resurrection, we have an answer to all of the aching and longing that we find in our own hearts.

We can remember that we have found our truest home—in Him.

 

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How Lent Reveals the Gospel in Beautiful, Powerful Ways

How Lent Reveals the Gospel

During my early years, I grew up in a church that wound its way through the months by following the liturgical church calendar. We had different-colored banners up in every season of the year, based on what was being observed in the cycle of the church. The ministers wore stoles over their robes–long pieces of fabric in vibrant hues–that matched the banners and proclaimed the season that the church was in.

When my husband and I attended an Anglican church for a couple of years, the colors, banners, and robes took on a new significance for me. These practical reminders taught me, spiritually, how to live into time as a ChristianAs a student and now as a professor, my life tends to be built around the academic calendar of semesters and summers. At that church, I learned a new way of relating to time through color.

I have been thinking about this because the Church universal is now in the season of Lent–the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday that is meant to draw our hearts and minds into somber reflection. It is a season of spiritual preparation and repentance as we consider the cost that Christ paid for our sin, and Lent is a season of spiritual preparation and repentance as we consider the cost that Christ paid… Click To Tweetas we anticipate Holy Week–the week leading up to Easter.

Unlike the blazing red of Pentecost, or even the lively green of “ordinary time,” Lenten Sundays are full of the rich purple of royalty. The color reminds us, the people of God, that the King is making his way to victory, even though the victory initially looks like defeat. It reminds us of the royalty of Jesus even as he humbles himself all the way to death on a cross.

But then comes Holy Week, and with it comes a dramatic shift in hue. Although colors differ from church to church, in my memory Palm Sunday is red, looking ahead to the blood that Christ will offer on our behalf. Maundy Thursday, the night both of communion and betrayal, is white, a simple color for a somber day. But in the late hours of Maundy Thursday, the altar, cross, and banners are stripped bare of even this white fabric, leaving the symbols of faith as naked as Christ became.

Good Friday is sheathed in black. The color of mourning, the color of death. In my town, on this singular day of the year, a prominent church in the area unfurls three huge, black panels between the columns of their church entrance. They flap all day as a reminder that death is near–and that death must come before life.

In Christ, death is turned to life; mourning is turned to joyful celebration. Click To Tweet

Easter, in color as well as in truth, turns everything on its head. In Christ, death is turned to life; mourning is turned to joyful celebration. Resurrection–the reversal of the normal order–occurs. White is the color of the day, a reminder that he who first appeared plain–a Jewish man who was betrayed and killed–is actually more than a man. This simple hue is also, wonderfully, a reminder that white is actually the confluence of all color, and that in the resurrection, Christ has renewed all things. Nothing is outside of his healing, restorative resurrection.

Although I am no longer part of a liturgical congregation, I find myself drawn to the richness of the tradition, and to the power that simple things like colors have to tell us about the Gospel and about how we fit into the larger story of the Church. I may not see the banners and the robes on a weekly basis, but I try to remember the significance as I walk through the Lenten season.

In these days leading up to Easter, I want to more fully ponder the royalty of Jesus, this one who left his heavenly throne for an earthly cross. I want to remember the simplicity of this god-man who was stripped bare and bled. I want to take time to mourn the true death that he died, and then to anticipate the upending power of the resurrection and the newness that he brought to all life.

I want to color inside the lines of the Gospel story this Lenten season, by letting the Gospel seep its color into me.

 

Walking Dust: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

As people of faith, Ash Wednesday is  a day that marks us—figuratively and, in some traditions, literally—for a period of weeks that is meant to change us. Lent seeks to hush our ravenous appetite for ease and excess and, instead, remind us that the way of Christ is neither of those things. The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the dust of the earth and the pain of a cross. It is the way of truth.

Image-1 (2)

Psalm 103 has long been a favorite of mine; I love the way that the heart of David is uncovered as he declares what he knows to be true of God. Here, David is preaching to his own soul that God is the one who “forgives all of your sins” and “redeems your life from the pit.” David goes on to offer the dizzying image of God as the one who hurtles our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west. And he remembers that God’s love is with those “who fear him”—from “everlasting to everlasting.” This is the Psalm that I read when I need to be reminded of God’s character, for this chapter reminds me of his compassion, his kindness, and his mercy.

Lodged in the middle of one of these mighty declarations, however, is a reminder to the reader of our real state, in verses 13-16.

As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 
for he knows how we are formed,
 
he remembers that we are dust. 
The life of mortals is like grass,
 
they flourish like a flower of the field; 
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
 
and its place remembers it no more.

This verse elicits two responses in me. First, I see the kindness that the Lord has for us: he who is eternal cares for those who are finite. My life is a scratch on the husk of this earth, and yet he has compassion on me. How kind, how good, how loving is this God? But secondly, I am forced to come to terms with the reality that although I am flourishing now, there is a day soon in its coming when I will no longer be here. My body will give out; my skull will become a shell. As it is written in the Book of Common Prayer, one day my body will be “commit[ted] to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

And here is the importance of Ash Wednesday. Whether or not you participate in a church service, you may see men and women walking around today with sooty crosses on their foreheads. Take a second look at the ones you see with these crosses smudged on their faces; that soot is a visceral reminder of our real state.

We are walking dust.

We are walking dust. Click To Tweet

Infused with the breath of life, yes. For now. And although I cling to the hope of Easter each day of my life, believing wholeheartedly that the death of my flesh is not the death of me, I still will face death. As will you. In order to tell the truth, this is where we must start on this Lenten journey. Death comes to all of us. And yet, as David writes in Psalm 103, God still cares for us. He still loves us, has compassion on us, and has made the way for us to be free from all sin so that we do not have to fear this death. This is the hope we are inching toward during Lent, even as we come to terms with our own mortality.