February 2018

Post date: Feb 01, 2018 8:11:40 PM

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are having a much milder winter this year. Remember all the snow, ice and cold of last year? I saw my first robin already on January 20th while out walking the dog on the Iron Horse Trail. A few purple primroses and pansies began blooming in the church garden right after Martin Luther King Day. Of course the day after I wrote this, it snowed just to remind us that it is still winter.

Lengthen: the word “Lent” comes from an old English word meaning to lengthen. The days are starting to get longer and there is actually some warmth in the sunshine. The season of Lent begins this year on February 14 with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday comes early this year, because Easter Day comes fairly early this year on April 1. Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring Equinox on March 20. To find Ash Wednesday, we then back up 40 days from Resurrection Day, but don’t include Sundays, which are always “little Easters”. (Many pastors hope that Easter will be standardized to perhaps the second Sunday of April sometime in the near future.)

But why are there 40 days in Lent? Well, forty is a very biblical number. Noah and family were in the ark for 40 days. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness while they learned to trust God. Jesus was tested for 40 days in the desert by Satan. And our Lord Jesus spent about 40 hours in the grave of death before God raised him up to everlasting life.

Lent is a time to struggle against everything that gets in the way of our Christian calling to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Repenting of our sins, prayer, fasting, worship, Bible study and works of love and charity are some of the disciplines of Lent. These are ways to help us deepen our faith walk with Jesus. They are not ways to earn God’s love and salvation for us. Forgiveness, life and salvation are always God’s free and gracious gift to us through Jesus Christ. But the disciplines of lent are ways to be intentional about our faith walk with our Savior Jesus. We journey with Jesus to Jerusalem to his trial, his cross and his grave. We think on the extreme sacrifice Jesus made to save us from sin, death and evil. Then when Easter comes we will be able to celebrate his resurrection and life with true joy!

Many Christians receive a cross of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday. Since Old Testament times, ashes have been an outward sign of inner repentance. For Christians, it’s also a reminder of baptism: that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and marked with his cross forever.

It’s hard not to notice that this year Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday and April Fool’s Day falls on Easter! Valentine’s Day and Ash Wed. seem at odds with each other and yet they are both about love. Valentine’s Day is about human love, romantic love, which is important. And Ash Wed and Lent are about God’s great love for us, which spills out of us as love for others. As for April Fool’s Day being on Easter: God surely fools death and evil when God raises Jesus to fresh and unconquerable, everlasting life.

Joel 2 is always one of the readings for Ash Wed. The prophet writes, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Joel 2:13. Lent is a good time to intentionally return to the gracious mercy of God. Loving good works towards our neighbors in our church families and in our communities and world help us to do this.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Dennis