Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday: Reflection, Renewal, and Revival

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
Many within in our culture hear the word "Lent" and equate it with an exercise of giving some trivial thing up for a season.  We'll hear of those "giving up (fill in the blank...) for Lent.  Many who profess Christianity consider Lent to be something that "Catholics do".  These views serve only to rob individuals of a season of great blessing.  Allow me to offer up an alternative to these two common misconceptions.  Lent, faithfully pursued, can be a conduit for reflection, renewal and revival.

Historically, Lent commemorated the event in the Savior's mission where he withdrew from the community surrounding him to be alone in the desert, communing with His Father. Scripture tells us that in this season, he fasted, prayed, and was tempted by the accuser.  It was a time where the second person of the Godhead focused on what was his "big picture", the redemption of his creation. We can draw much from this.

Reflection in Lent can be transformational. It allows us to see ourselves as we really are, fallen, broken, and continually desiring to walk our own way rather than the way of the cross.  Reflection causes us to see how we were transformed and continually transformed by Christ's redemption on the cross.  It allows us to see how we've become justified before the Almighty, clothed in Christ's own righteousness.

Renewal challenges us to walk in, and live into this great salvation which was freely offered to us. We didn't earn it, we didn't deserve it, and we could never pay the price for such an act of mercy.  Yet we can and must live as one who apprehends the gravity of such a gift.  Lent calls us to walk in this newness of life, living in a humility that recognizes our Lord's unfathomable love, and to commit in communicating this love to the world around us.

When we walk in reflection and renewal, revival will be a natural consequence.  Please don't confuse this Revival with Revivalism.  Revivalism flows from an external stimulus playing on ones emotions and feeling.  Revival wells from deep within, where one will find a transformed heart.  A holy Lent will grant this opportunity to all who would walk in it.

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