Meditations for the Lenten Season— Part One

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The term Lenten comes from the English word ‘lengthen’ referring to the lengthening of the days as one progresses towards Easter. Here is the first of several meditations for your reflection during Lent, this one for today, Ash Wednesday.

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To move from fast to feast,
From ashes to riding an ass,
From wilderness wandering
God’s willingness wondering
To follow the way of the cross
To find what was utterly lost
All this was Lent to us.

The cup not passed over
By our Passover
The vinegar he willingly drank—
But through gift divine
New covenant wine
Came forth from his side as he sank
All this was given to us

Through breaking of bread
They knew their head
The joy of new life begun
From out of the depths,
From out of his death
His people one loaf had become
All this was food for us.

Lent leads to Easter
The faster turns feaster
A foretaste for those in the dust
A bread with new leaven
The manna from heaven
All this has risen for us.

God’s ways are not our ways,
Our eyes cannot see,
The logic of love,
Nailed to a tree.
Come now to the dinner
Come saint and come sinner,
The meal is now served to us.

Lent 1982

THEOLOGICAL MUSINGS

This is a Eucharistic poem, meant to reinforce the importance of the Lord’s Supper during Lent. Traditionally during Lent some church activities have been suspended as this is intended to be a time of mourning for sin, introspection, fasting, prayer and the like. For example, traditionally in the Roman Catholic church there are no weddings during Lent. And in some other traditions there are no baptisms either. The one constant however is that the Lord’s Supper continues to be served throughout the period.

There is of course a logic to this. In most Christian traditions there is a prayer of repentance that one is supposed to pray before coming to the table. “We do not presume to come to this thy table, presuming on your mercy…” it begins. Repentance, a staple of Lenten devotion is built into the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and rightly so. It could be stressed that one needs the grace of God, one needs the ‘real presence’ of Christ as much or more during Lent as during any season of the church year. So the Lord’s Supper continues to be served.
Recently Asbury sponsored some fine lectures by Mark Allen Powell. One of these lectures was on the absence of Christ. By this he was referring to the fact that during the church age and since the Ascension Christ has been physically absent from his people and will remain physically absent from his people until the parousia. There is then a sense in which, since we do not have the bridegroom with us in the flesh, it is appropriate for us to fast, as Jesus said it was (see Mk. 2.19-20). Powell is right that while Jesus is present with his church even now, there is a sense in which he is absent as well, and since we are supposed to be the church expectant, awaiting the bridegroom, there has to be a sense in which Jesus’ full presence with us is something to be celebrating in a way that we are not celebrating now. He reminded us as well that the language of the Lord’s Supper is all about remembrance and ‘until he comes’ underlining that he was once here with his people and that he will return to celebrate with us again in a bolder way. The Lord’s Supper language then, paradoxically enough reminds us of the current absence of the physical presence of the Christ. Clearly God’s ways are not our ways.
In this poem I have tried to stress a few different Lenten themes, including ‘the logic of love nailed to a tree’. In one sense it is not difficult to see this logic. If you really love someone you will be willing to make sacrifices for them, even the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life if one truly loves that person. But there is another side to this equation that makes less sense on the surface of things. It was not just the case that Jesus voluntarily gave up his life. The tradition is clear that he asked for the cup of God’s wrath and it turned out to be God’s will that he should drink it. Now we have this image of God demanding payment for sin.
For some this image of the Father, as one who demands that things be set right, and that justice be done for sin, is an image that is forbidding and forboding. Is this really the character of God. And one could ask a pointed question— What sort of Father would demand that his Son undergo this sort of death, unless of course it was absolutely necessary for our salvation. But if it is both the necessary atonement for sin, and the essential means by which we all may be saved, then indeed Jesus’ voluntary submission to this death is the greatest example of self-sacrificial love imaginable. It shows us that God’s mercy found a way to be both just and the justifier of sinful human beings. God’s love is a holy love. Not holiness without love, and not love without holiness. Holiness without love is judgment without mercy. Love without holiness not only has no definite shape or character, it become infinite indulgence of things which destroy human life, human character, human nature. In Jesus’ death God found a way to be righteous and loving in the same event, dealing with sin but saving the sinner. This is at the very heart of the Lenten message. It is why Golgotha is the goal of this season, its termination and resting point.

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