Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Now It Is Lent

Now It is Lent

Every year the 40 days of Lent mark a long period in the Christian calendar. It is a time when the church traditionally has focused on what it means to be the people of God and what it means for individuals to be Christian. It is a time of self-examination in the Christian life. It is a time when we can reflect on what we do and what we don’t do; on what directions our lives are moving and on what ways we are living out our vocations as disciples of Jesus Christ in the context of the lives God give us today.
Lent comes from the Middle English word lent, meaning “springtime”, and from the Old English word meaning “to lengthen” in regard to daylight. It is thus associated with the lengthening of days in the spring of the year. In the early church, Lent became the name for the period of forty weekdays before Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday. It was the time when those who were being instructed in preparation for church membership to be marked by baptism. Converts to the faith devoted themselves to a time of learning, praying, listening, and studying to understand the mysteries of the Christian faith. It was a time of preparation for the important event of Christian baptism, which would mark them publicly as Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ. It was a time for the baptized members of the church to pray for those who were devoting this time to learn and reflect as they sought baptism and church membership on Easter Sunday - the typical day all joined the church after their period of study. As the Christian church moved through history, this forty-day period before Easter became a special time for those who had been baptized and had publicly stood before the congregation and declared their faith and commitment - It became a time for them of not only praying for those who were learning to become part of Christ’s church but also a time of penitence, a time when they examined their lives to see what God was saying and what should be doing.
The 40 days of Lent reflect the biblical significance of the number forty. Moses spent 40 days with God on Mount Sinai and Elijah traveled to Mount Horeb for 40 days and forty nights. It rained for 40 days when Noah was in the ark and the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the land of promise. The prophecy given to Jonah was that the city of Nineveh would be destroyed in 4 days. 40 days marked a movement toward something of great importance. Of course the most famous 40 days in the New Testament was the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, followed by being tempted by the devil. The Lenten period reminds us each year of Jesus’ wrestling with the temptations to turn away from being faithful go God. Jesus resisted the temptations and and ‘angels came and ministered to him”. Then Jesus began his ministry.
Through the early centuries, the church commemorated the temptation narrative and dedicated the Lenten period with special meaning. Fasting for various periods was required during Lent to remind believers of Jesus’ temptation leading to his suffering and death on the cross. The time was to be marked with penitence, self-reflection and spiritual practices to bring one closer to God. The point of all activities and practices was to focus one’s life and experience on loving and serving God.
During Lent we will focus on Jesus’ directive to us to ‘pray like this’ after his disciples had asked him to teach them to pray. Because what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” is rom Jesus and is given as a directive from the disciples question on how to pray, the Lord’s Prayer has had a prominent place in the church’s worship and in the prayer lives of Christians from the early times. The church has recognized the prayer as containing the elements all prayers should posses. Jesus told his disciples “Pray then in this way” implying that the prayer provides an example of what prayer should include. Early theologians contended the prayer was a ‘summary of all the entire Gospel’ and other theologians declared the prayer as the perfect description of of the Christian life and the praise, petition and glory that disciples of Jesus Christ offer to God. Other theologians saw the prayer as an outline through which you can structure your personal prayer and the corporate prayers of the church.
In the beginning the Lord’s prayer was recited publicly by Christians right after their baptism as they were preparing to join the congregation for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper for the first time on Easter Sunday. So the association of the Lord’s Prayer with the Lenten season is a long standing tradition and has ancient roots. Taking our cue from that, we will use the Lord’s Prayer as our focus during this Lenten season. I encourage you if it is not already your practice to pray the prayer every day, for if it truly is a summary of the Gospel message or a direction of what we need to believe and do, or a model for every prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is a very appropriate vehicle for guidance during our Lenten season. The Lord’s prayer orients us toward who God is and what God is doing. The prayer gives the foundation for faith and guides us into what our relationship with God in Jesus Christ can mean for us as his disciples. The prayer helps us remember during Lent that we live as a people who practice thanks, praise and payer in all we say and do.
Each Sunday we will look at a different phrase in the prayer and how that leads us to live better as God’s people. Today we will take a moment to remember the phrase we find in the prayer ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ since at the beginning of Lent we think about that time when Jesus is led into temptation after his 40 days of fasting and prayer.
As we mentioned earlier, Jesus is baptized and his work and ministry began. But before he went out to do anything, he went into the wilderness to consider what it was he was to do. He fasted and prayed and when he was hungry and tired, Satan came and tempted him at the most vulnerable point in his life. Satan tempted Jesus with the very things that will pull us from God - power in thinking we are in control that God is out our command to do for us whatever we want him to, self-sufficiency in thinking we can provide for ourselves and and the temptation to give value to practices that are not of God - making idols out of possessions or money or the things that give us pleasure.
As we practice a Holy Lent - in all the prayer and reflection we too come to a vulnerable point in our lives for Lent is asking us to consider our sin to consider how we have given in to these temptations that surround us - not so we can feel bad about ourselves but so that we can see ourselves in relation to a perfect, sinless savior; so we can see our need for a savior who resisted all temptation while we can not. This phrase does not imply that God actually
leads us into temptation - the Greek phase which is only in the Matthew version and not the Luke version of the prayer is actually translated ‘ save us from the time of trial’ . It is a recognition of the fact that we are all going to be faced with temptation our whole lives. We cannot avoid it. In the prayer the phrase is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the garden before he is arrested when he prays to God - ‘Take this cup from me’. In the Lord’s prayer we are acknowledging the presence of evil, we are acknowledging the constant bombardment of temptations that surround us and we are going to the only power that can help us resist as Jesus was able to.
As you move into the time of Lent, think about the things that tempt you. What are the things that try so hard to pull you away from a connection to this community of faith? What are the things that try so hard to pull you away from believing and trusting God? What are the things that tempt you to think that you don’t need a savior - that Jesus isn’t really all that important.
As you move into this time of Lent, think, pray, reflect just as Jesus did those 40 days in the wilderness and ask God to save you from the times that test your faith.