T. S. Elliot says many things in this quote from his poem The Rock, but one of the themes that he represents is a brilliant synopsis of this Lenten / Easter season. The phrase that leaps out at me most clearly is the last line “Darkness now, then Light.”
From: The Rock
There shall always be the Church and the World
And the Heart of Man
Shivering and fluttering between then, choosing and chosen,
Valiant, ignoble, dark, and full of light
Swinging between Hell Gate and Heaven Gate.
And the Gates of Hell shall not prevail.
Darkness now, then
In the same way Philippians gives us the panoramic view of Christ amongst us, a wonderful overview of this season again. There is an old story which has it’s roots in many cultures (it tends to be an Irish or Maritimer who ends up telling it). A newcomer to an area asks for instructions for a journey. The response is “you can not get there from here.” Therein lies the last comment that is a survey of this season. None of us can get to Easter without going through the passion. We can not enter into the resurrection of Jesus until we have begun to appreciate His suffering.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11.
We prepared for Christmas with a season called Advent, a time of readings, waiting, reflection, prayer and anticipation of the Saviour’s birth.
We prepare for Easter by engaging in a season called Lent and by quoting Steve Simala Grant’s (he is the minister of Laurier Heights in Edmonton) great synopsis of it:
Introduction to Lent:
Some of you may not be familiar with the season of Lent. In the church year, there are two major climaxes – there is the season of Christmas, where we celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus, and there is the season of Easter, where we celebrate the atoning death of Jesus and the victory of resurrection. Advent is the season which prepares us for Christmas – it lasts 4 weeks. Lent is the season that prepares us for Easter, and it lasts about 6 weeks. Lent begins this coming Wednesday, February 9th.
Lent is meant to be a time of repentance. It is a solemn season, in which we are encouraged to delve deeper into our souls and allow the Spirit of God to search us and to lead us in repentance. It is a time of recognizing out sin, of allowing God to cut out all that is evil within us and purify us from all unrighteousness.
That is not an easy journey.
Why would we want to celebrate any “human created” seasons in our own devotional life, small group, or church. The basic outline of the “church” or “liturgical year” gives us some of the sign posts in the life of Christ and the life of the church. Preparing for Christmas (Advent), the Wise Men (Epiphany), preparing for Easter (Lent), the Ascension of Jesus (Pointing to the end of the world and the return of Christ) and Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit; some have called it the birthday of the Church). These supports ensure that we read the scriptures
1) in an orderly fashion not just picking and choosing what we want;
2)these patterns invite us to reflect of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and return and the life of His body the church;
3) these readings give us some spiritual disciples that some of us might lack.
Please find the following:
1. A Sermon on the Journey of Repentance (Lent)
2. Lenten Scripture Readings
3. Lenten Resource Material
I have been deeply affected by this material. I want to thank Sam Breakey for suggesting Steve’s work to us. I want to say to Steve a great thank you for sharing with us this material and commend him to you all as an exceptional writer and catalyst for new life in Christ. If you want an outline and instructions for an “Ash Wednesday” service please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask Shelby to send them to you.
In the weeks to follow I will leave us with one or two Lenten thoughts to encourage and challenge us.
The first two are from the Northumbrian Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer.
The other morning some of us were together in a church where the rector was saying Morning Prayer, and leading us in guided silent prayer. He said ‘Let us pray for those whom we love.’ And that was easy. Then he said, ’Let us pray for those whom we do not love.’ And there rose up before my mind three men who have opposed my work. In this they may have been wrong. But my wrong was in resentment and a feeling of letting myself by cut off from them, and even from praying for them, because of it. Years ago I read a quotation from Mary Lyon that recurs to me again and again: ‘ Nine-tenths of our suffering is caused by others not thinking so much of us as we think they ought.’ If you want to know where pride nestles and festers in most of us, that is right where it is; and it is not the opposition of others, but our own pride, which causes us the deepest hurt. I never read a word that penetrated more deeply into the sin of pride form which all of us suffer, nor one which opens up more surgically our places of unforgiveness.
Samuel Moor Shoemaker, And Thy Neighbour
O Son of God,
do a miracle of me
and change my heart.
Thy having taken flesh
to redeem me
was more difficult
than to transform my wickedness.
Irish, 15th Century
PS There is an ancient Christian tradition that asks people to give up something for this season of Lent. This small sacrifice is to identify with the suffering of Jesus and to also identify with the suffering of others; simple examples can include giving up favourite food or coffee (not me!) or looking at an aspect of my character that needs God’s shaping … you get the idea.
PSS We are very open to seasonal ideas around Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas, etc. Please feel free to send them in.
A Journey of Repentance – by Steve Simala Grant
Confession and Repentance
A few weeks ago, during a time of prayer, I felt like God was saying that while we might be ok at confession, we really have no idea about repentance. We are used to admitting, at least before God, that we have sinned, and asking for forgiveness. That part is familiar, and that is confession.
But repentance is something more. Repentance is more than merely acknowledging that a wrong has been done, repentance digs much deeper. It gets down to the level of self-examination of the cause of the sin in the first place, and it invites god into those deep places of the heart and of motives. Repentance is dealing with that soul cancer that causes sin. And at its completion, repentance is about change.
Repentance is the heart of the call of God to us. All through Scripture, from the beginning to the end, the call of God is that we repent. Repentance was the message of the men and women in the time of the judges. It was the message to the nations of Israel and Judah. It was the central message of all of the Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest. And repentance is the central message of the NT, and of Jesus.
It was the message of John (3:1): “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”
It was among the first words of Jesus in Mark (!:15): “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” A little later on in His ministry, Jesus summed up His whole ministry with these words (Luke 5:32): “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Repentance is the heart of the very first sermon of the church: Acts 2:38: “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And repentance is the message for us today.
Conviction, Contrition, and Conversion
In preparing for Lent, I found the following in an article by Dean Robinson describing the doctrine of repentance. He sees repentance in three parts:
1) Conviction – where sin is admitted. Man must see himself as a lost, ruined, guilty, desperately wicked sinner without hope or help, in danger of hell. In repentance, a lost sinner not only sees himself as a sinner, but he recognizes the fact that he has sinned against a righteous and holy God. The message that Paul preached was: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). In repentance, there will be confession of sin to God (Psa. 32:5, 51:1-4).
2) Contrition – where sin is abhorred. When one sees himself as he appears before God, he is brought to a place where there is godly sorrow for his sin and hates it altogether.
“For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.” (Psa. 38:18); “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” (2 Cor. 7:10)
To hate sin is to love God. In true repentance, there is not only the desire to escape the consequences of sin, but to be rid of sin itself as a thing displeasing to God.
3) Conversion – where sin is abandoned. Repentance involves the forsaking of sin: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7); “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Prov. 28:13).
Repentance is not only a heart broken for sin, but also from sin. We must forsake what we would have God forgive. It should be stressed that it is not enough just to turn away from sin; one must also turn to God for salvation. In explaining this to King Agrippa, Paul shared how Jesus said to him, “I am sending you to (all people) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’… (Paul) preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:18, 20)
In true repentance, there is conviction, contrition, and conversion as one turns from his sin to Christ for salvation.. Salvation is deliverance of a person form his sin, not merely from a sinful environment. Jesus Christ is the Saviour from not only the penalty and punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.
We don’t hear many calls to repentance today, and I wonder if one of the main causes is that we have lost a Biblical view of self and of sin. We prefer to only concentrate on the love of God for us, and neglect the fact that we only see the depth of that love when we recognize how unworthy we are, and how desperately we need to be saved. We have bought into a cheap grace that forgives without thought and without effort, and we have responded in kind – without giving much thought or much effort to God in how we live from day to day. We have lost the truth of repentance because we have lost the weight of sin.
And so I invite you on a Lenten journey of repentance. A journey which might very well save you, from all the hell of sin in this life and quite possibly in the next.
This is not a journey of guilt, but of life. It is not a journey of despair, but of hope. It is not a journey of condemnation but of forgiveness. It is not a journey of personal effort, but of submission and acceptance of repentance as a gift of God.
But it is a journey done God’s way. Do you wonder why your life is not the way neither you nor God want it? Do you wonder why some of the ministries of our church lack effectiveness and power? I suggest to you that it is because we have, for the most part, tried to deal with our sin the easy way – surface level confession; rather than the hard way – deep repentance.
God’s way is not through self-help, the encouragement to find the good in yourself, or through cheap entertainment. God’s way is through death – first the death of Jesus on the cross, then through our death to self. God’s way is through death, on a path that leads to life; our way attempts to avoid death, attempts to deny death, and so keeps us wrapped in the clutches of death rather than being saved from it.
The Journey Begins:
Our journey begins here, at the Lord’s table. There is great, beautiful irony here – for it is a table of death: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). And yet it is also a table of life, as we remember that the death of Jesus brings us life. Let us remember today the price at which that life comes – the death of the Son of God. Let us then remember that it comes freely to us. And then let us make a decision about how we will respond to the call of God to each of us through His Word: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”.