The forty days of Lent were historically a time for Christian converts to be instructed in the Christian faith. It was a journey of faith, culminating in their being baptized during the Easter Vigil and then participating in the Lord’s Supper for the first time.
This year, our Lenten spiritual journey begins from exile in the wilderness of sin and death.
But do not be surprised to discover that from the very beginning, even here, it is Christ who travels with us. We enter this Lenten season contemplating the reality of our earthly journey but with eyes fixed on the destination – the empty tomb and the open gates of everlasting life. What joy there is in knowing that we do not walk alone!
We start with our Ash Wednesday service on March 7th.
Ashes have been a sign of repentance and contrition over the centuries. They are a reminder that , without the mercy of almighty God, we deserve the spiritual death of God’s warning in Eden: We are dust, and to dust we shall return.
On March 13th, we look at the journey from Garden to Garden, from Eden from which we have been exiled, to Heaven which has the Garden of Everlasting Life.
This is not an easy journey, but one that has been taken first by our Lord and Savior Jesus.
On March 20th, we journey from Mountain to Mountain: Mt. Moriah to Mt. Zion.
At Mt. Moriah Abraham was to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It was a difficult mountain to climb. But on this mountain, the Lord Will Provide. God rescued Isaac fro the knife of Abraham to provide his own sacrifice. Later, Mt. Moriah would become Mt. Zion, where the Jerusalem temple would be built. Although Jesus was sacrificed on t. Calvary, His blood was brought to the Holy of Holies in the temple and sprinkled for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. A difficult mountain to climb, but the journey to that mountain leads us to the mountain of the new Zion – Heaven.
On March 27th, we look at a return from exile in Egypt – through the water.
On March 27th, we look at a return from exile in Egypt – through the water. How does one escape from a bad situation? Where does one turn when surrounded by brutality, slavery, and death? We desire to flee, to find refuge. We need to begin a journey that will set us free, but the result of our efforts is nothing more than going in circles. We seek freedom; we receive greater slavery. We journey toward light; we end up in deeper darkness. How do we escape? It is God who leads us on the journey out of this slavery to sin and death. Where does He take us? To the water—to the banks of the Red Sea, or the River Jordan, or to the baptismal font; here, we are set free. The bondage of sin and death, the claws of Satan, no longer hold us, for we have been through the water. These are the waters of death for our enemies, and they are the waters of life for us. The enemy of our old Adam is drowned in these waters, but the New Adam comes through to new life. We have been rescued from the enemy by the waters and made the children of God.
On April 3rd, we journey from Tree to Tree – the Tree of Life to the Cross.
God created man, and man began his journey in the Garden of Eden. In the midst of that garden were two trees more beautiful than the rest. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life—what joy for man to come to these trees and worship, giving thanks to God for His good and gracious gifts. But one day there was an unwelcome visitor to their worship service—Satan. He had things to say, wise things to share with man. They were lies, but man followed. Sin came, and Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden and from the tree of life. How they longed to return to the garden and the beautiful tree, and God promised that He would lead the way. Jesus Christ leads us from one garden to the next and from one tree to the tree of life in the courts of heaven. It was a hard and treacherous journey for our Leader, and it required a stop at another tree, the cross. But the evil Satan, who used a tree to bring sin into world, was conquered by another tree, and our sin was washed away.
On April 10th, we journey from Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land
The journey through a desolate place causes concern. It the midst of a desert, we wonder if we have enough water and food. In the middle of a drive across the wilderness of the western plains, we repeatedly check the fuel gauge. We know that that death awaits the unprepared in the wilds and woolies. Indeed, the wilderness has always been considered a place of death and separation, a place of exile from all that we long for and hold dear, even our life. A journey through the wilderness is dangerous, but what waits for those who arrive at the other side? New life, a resurrection, a promised land where the Lord provides all good things, all life-giving and life-sustaining things; these are the blessings that come to the people of God from the hand of God as He brings us out of the wilderness of sin and into the paradise purchased by His Son. From the wilderness to the promised land—from death to life—a return from exile!
HOLY WEEK SERVICES:
April 18th: Holy Thursday
Meal to Meal: The Passover to the Lord’s Supper. This evening, we partake of a meal that the Lord God has prepared with His own hands. It is a holy feast that nourishes our faith and restores our souls. It is a rich feast purchased with the most costly coin, the Son of God. Today, we eat and drink and remember and give humble thanks. Other holy meals have brought us to this feast; all meals provided by the hands of the Holy One. This day, we remember the Passover meal and the blood of the lamb on the doorposts that protected from the angel of death. We remember the day of Passover and the lamb because it points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It points us to this holy feast of His body and blood. But there is one more, one greater feast yet to come—the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. A feast provided by the hands of the Lord God. A feast enjoyed in the presence of the Lamb in the courts of His heaven. A greater feast indeed!
Good Friday: April 19th
Sin-Bearer to Sin-Bearer: The Day of Atonement to the Atonement. This is a night of burdens. It is black Friday, Good Friday, and we feel the burden. We feel the burden of our sin. Yes, we know our sin is forgiven. We know because we have been taught and we believe, but there is still that feeling, that despair, that darkness of this night. Our Savior, the Son of God, hangs upon a tree, and His lifeblood drains down the wood and stains the ground. His blood instead of ours—this is a night of burdens. Surely He has borne our sin and carried our sorrows—He is the Sin-bearer. This journey began long ago in the wilderness as a goat received the sins of the people and was led out to the evil one. Now the journey has come to a cross and the scapegoat, Jesus, carries our sins, pays our price, and gives His life for ours. Jesus is our burden-bearer, our scapegoat, our sin-bearer—and on this day, this Good Friday, we look upon the tree and see our sins laid upon the Holy One. We see our sins, we see our Savior, and we see our salvation.
April 21st: Easter Sunday – Welcome Home!
Our overall theme for this Lenten Season has been “Return from Exile: A Lenten Journey.” Every journey has a unique beginning and ending, and this journey has proven to be unique as well. Today, Easter Day, that journey is completed. From the Mountain of Transfiguration to the empty tomb, we have come a long way. We have journeyed through gardens, looked upon trees, explored mountains, traveled through the wilderness, and crossed rivers. We have eaten meals and descended into pits, but now we have arrived at the end of our journey—the fulfillment of our journey. However, while the empty tomb points us to our final destination, that destination does not end at the tomb. Although the tomb is empty, and it is not now and will never be our home. Heaven is our home because Christ has risen and ascended, and where He is, there also we shall be! Heaven is our home where we gather around the throne of the Lamb in His kingdom.