Monday, January 29, 2007

A Time to Be Sullen?

Hey Folks! Lent is just around the corner!! It begins February 21, Ash Wednesday. Another round of gloom and moroseness in which we Lutherans give ourselves permission to spend six weeks where we don’t have to be joyful and upbeat! Yippee!

All joking aside (and hopefully without too much irreverence), what is the deal with Lent anyway? Why do we Lutherans go through that period of Lent when we live on this side of the resurrection? Why do we allow ourselves to become characterized by gloom when we believe that Christ has saved us from doom and gloom?

Shouldn’t we be happy all the time?

This is actually a serious matter, because we don’t want to spend six weeks of our year, and for that matter our entire lives, in a way that is not God-pleasing.

Okay, so we do Lent. How do we observe it in a God-pleasing way? There is a phrase in the Prayer of Thanksgiving which we pray before receiving the Lord’s Supper: “repentant joy”. These two things seem to be the opposite of each, don’t they?

Repentance we associate with moroseness, sorrowing over our sin. Joy of course is the opposite, celebration of the love of God! What in the world is repentant joy?

God actually loves to deal in opposites. Yes, we sorrow over our sin and that is God-pleasing. And yes, we rejoice in His favor, grace, mercy, and eternal love. That too is God-pleasing.

Jesus is actually referred to in the Bible as the “man of sorrows” [Isaiah 53:3]. He suffered beyond what we can imagine, bearing our guilt and sin and punishment. But does that mean that He walked around all the time gloomily? Nope. His life was characterized by joy. Specifically joy for you and me and every person who has walked this earth. He rejoiced in His living on this earth to save mankind.

We indeed repent. We sorrow over our sins. That doesn’t mean we’re depressed about it. It doesn’t mean we have to walk around everywhere as if we ourselves are a man of sorrows. It does mean that we take seriously that we don’t deserve God’s love. That we do deserve hell for our sinning against God.

But repentance is more than just sorrow. It’s also “repentant joy”. It’s looking to that event where the Man of Sorrows exhibited His greatest joy—in dying on the cross to save the world from sin. Is there greater joy than this?

This is the purpose of Lent. It’s the purpose of life. Repent of your sullenness! Repent of your sin! Rejoice in God’s abounding mercy and love in Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, the Savior of the World, the One in whom is eternal joy! Happy Lent!

No comments: