Lent and Lutherans

As long as I can remember, I have gone to church on Wednesdays during Lent. I remember singing for Lenten services, the dark somber church, and the penitential purple of Lent. At times I welcomed Lent because it meant the end of a cold winter. I remember walking on sidewalks where thin ice formed over pools of melted snow after the sun dropped below the horizon.

I did a little research about Lent and discovered that it grew out of a time of preparation for Easter observed by the ancient church. It seems to have grown from just a two-day observance to 36 days by the fifth century and eventually to 40 days. It becomes 40 days today by skipping the Sundays in the count; Sundays are always days commemorating the Lord’s resurrection.

As a Lutheran, I recall the special emphasis on the Lord’s suffering and death. Each year I heard the combined gospel accounts of what Jesus endured for me and for all sinners. I still hear it. That story is not the same old, same old for me. Yes, at times, I drift away, and my mind wanders to something else. But Lent and its story of Christ are important.

Unfortunately, as with everything else, someone spoils it. The world spoils Christmas with its commercialism and somehow inserts an Easter bunny into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from death. Lent too gets spoiled. Some go from the wild parties of Mardi Gras to a kind of austere self-denial during Lent. Once Easter comes, then it’s okay to return to the wild parties. Maybe they believe that Lent is a time to make up for or atone for all the sins of the rest of the year by sober behavior and sacrifice.

But that’s not helpful. Instead Lent is power—spiritual power. The season of Lent gives me and all of us one more opportunity to remember Christ crucified—the central message of Lent in our Lutheran churches. Each Wednesday I come to church and renew my faith through the message of Jesus’ suffering and death. The apostle Paul wrote that the message of Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” and that the message of Christ is “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 1:24 & 2:4).

When we hear the story of Christ’s passion, it’s not just a reminder of something we once learned. It’s not just a refresher course on Jesus. Nor is it a familiar story we like to hear again and again, like the stories we tell and retell to our children and grandchildren. No, God imparts his power through the gospel. As Lutherans we understand that God promises to work only through the gospel. God assures us that through that means and that means alone the Holy Spirit works to strengthen faith, to comfort us, and to give us power to live as disciples of Jesus.