Synopsis of: A New Plan for Lent
( Rejoice! It’s Lent )
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Good and joyful day today to all Christian brothers and sisters on this the day the Lord has made. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea, or milk, or whatever is your favorite; we’re about to slice a piece of the bread of life the Word of God. and today’s slice comes from….
Joel 1:1-12 subtitled very somberly in my Bible as…. An Invasion of Locusts
The LORD gave this message to Joel son of Pethuel.
2 Hear this, you leaders of the people! Everyone listen! In all your history, has anything like this ever happened before? 3 Tell your children about it in the years to come. Pass the awful story down from generation to generation. 4 After the cutting locusts finished eating the crops, the swarming locusts took what was left! After them came the hopping locusts, and then the stripping locusts, too! 9 There is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD. The priests are mourning because there are no offerings. Listen to the weeping of these ministers of the LORD! 10 The fields are ruined and empty of crops. The grain, the wine, and the olive oil are gone. 11 Despair, all you farmers! Wail, all you vine growers! Weep, because the wheat and barley – yes, all the field crops – are ruined. 12 The grapevines and the fig trees have all withered. The pomegranate trees, palm trees, and apple trees – yes, all the fruit trees – have dried up. All joy has dried up with them.
Yes, that is a very somber, or gloomy message. So let me bring you back a few years to another somber or gloomy year. The year – 1979. The place – New Orleans. I remember it well; although I was born and raised just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans; I was not living there in 1979, but visited family their at least monthly.
There’s no joy in this town that year. Mighty Mardi Gras had struck out. The police were on strike! Mardi Gras Parades were being canceled. Visitors are not visiting, citizens not celebrating.
No one laughed, no one celebrated. Is this any way to begin Lent – somber and sober? Businessmen were giving up their profits for Lent because of lack of customers. Families are tightening their belts, picking at meager meals, living in fear to venture to the supermarket, or a restaurant. Is this any way to begin Lent – hapless and hungry?
Of course it is.
Why is that, Bro Dick? Because it’s precisely the quiet, reflective way Lent should be observed. But before we chuckle at the irony, perhaps we should ask – on whom is the joke? Is it on the people who love the reveling of Mardi Gras? Or, is it on the faithful of the church… you and me, who allowed Mardi Gras grow to its present proportions, detached from Lent, overshadowing Lent? We have watched this become a misguided, cockeyed season.
The fabric of these weeks before Easter, a fabric that was carefully woven by the early church, has become threadbare and ripped over the years.
Our efforts to correct it, with little rituals of pancake dinners on this day, as some do, or forsaking sweets in Lent, and psyching ourselves up for sunrise on Easter, are little more than just a patch job. What’s needed is a determination to reweave our season of Lent with the knowledge of how it originally looked.
In the early life of the church, of course, Easter was the Alpha and the Omega of the church year, the season when a Christian’s faith and spirit were reborn. The season of Lent existed solely in the shadow of the cross and the empty grave. Lent had two purposes; (1) – to prepare Christians for the Easter celebration and (2) to test Christians to check if they sufficiently appreciated the gift of Easter.
Catechumens, the beginning rudiments of Christianity, in their training, took their final exam before being baptized on Easter night. The most publicly sinful people made their confessions in front of other Christians; during worship, the Gospel readings dwelt on all the demonic challenges to Christ – Satan in the desert, for instance, and the healing of the possessed – to demonstrate what evil Christ was overcoming on Easter. It was a harsh season, not because of artificial restrictions, but because it was a harsh life of persecutions and living in the decaying society of that day. Yet it was also an eager season because of the Easter joy Christians anticipated as they knew it could rise above the harshness.
The first changes in this simple, strong fabric of Easter and Lent came in the fourth century. Christianity suffered a blow from which it never recovered – it became legitimate in the eyes of the state. The harshness of persecution gave way to respectability. Life for Christians became comfortable.
The Bishops of that day said, “A new preparation for Easter was needed. A new testing of faith.”
Therefore, here enters – fasting… the means of fortifying the spiritual by,,, depriving the physical.
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