Lent, Ash Wednesday, and All Saints
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and All Saints is offering two worship services so that, as a church, we may become more fully like the people spoken of by Jesus in his Beatitudes – “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek”. But in order to worship well on Ash Wednesday, one has to understand the season of Lent. And to understand Lent one has to see it within the context of the entire Christian year. So we will consider the church calendar today in order to worship “in spirit and truth” tomorrow.
Eugene Peterson writes, “When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context in which our stories find themselves.” The practice of following the Christian calendar rests upon this fundamental conviction of which Peterson speaks – as Christians our lives are a part of a larger story that encompasses the entire world and its history.
This grand narrative is the biblical story, the Genesis-to-Revelation epoch, beginning with the Triune God creating all things from nothing out of his effusive joy, including mankind in his image. Following God’s creation comes man’s fall into sin where human beings rebel against God with ruinous consequences to themselves and the earth. But then God counters man’s sin by incarnating himself in the person of Jesus Christ. It is through Christ and his work that mankind, along with the physical creation, are redeemed. And all of this dramatic action finally culminates in a new heavens and earth where God’s people dwell, delighting in the glory of his presence. In Romans 1 the Apostle Paul call this story “the gospel of God,” the good news.
We should ask ourselves what story predominately shapes our lives. Some story does, whether that of romance and marriage, career advancement and wealth, physical health and beauty, some other story… or the Christian story. As followers of Christ, we need continual reminding that: “to embrace Jesus is to be reconciled to God and to consciously step into his Story. And to follow Jesus is to have the shape and purpose of our lives conformed to the shape and purpose of his…. In other words, we want to inhabit the still-unfolding Story of God and have it inhabit and change us.” (Bobby Gross, Living The Christian Year) The ancient liturgical habit of living the Christian year does just that- it acts as a continual reminder that Jesus’ story is now our story and should therefore be the primary formative influence in our lives.
In this quote from Bobby Gross, we are directed subtly toward the central Christian doctrine of union with Christ (that believers in Christ are united to him by faith and share in his death and life) and how it can be lived out practically through spiritual practice of following the church calendar. The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul, a Christian is someone whose death for sin has been endured already by Jesus and also someone into whose heart God’s life has exploded – the two have become one in “mystic sweet communion.” If we are to take this doctrine of union with Christ seriously and see it applied in all aspects of our life, then it makes sense to structure our corporate and individual lives of faith around Jesus’ life as he lived it on the earth.
This is what the church calendar is – a structured sequence of 6 seasons built around holy days that turn Christians’ attention in worship and daily life to the primary events in Jesus’ life: his birth, baptism and transfiguration, death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Spirit. The focus of each season calls us to mirror God’s movements in history in our worship and devotional practices – his waiting (Advent), giving (Christmas), telling (Epiphany), dying (Lent), rising (Easter), being poured out (Pentecost). In other words the goal of the church calendar is to, year after year, immerse Christ-followers’ hearts, bodies, and minds in the divine actions that have been undertaken on our behalf. Hopefully, as we respond in faith to this rehearsal of the redemptive acts of God in the life of Christ we will be drawn more fully into his life and conformed to his image.
So join us tomorrow in worship at Red River Church at noon or St. Gabriel’s school at 6 PM as we seek to step more fully into the Christ story and, together, live out our life in him.