The Mind of Christ in Lent

Lent is probably the most widely observed season in the Christian year. Churches which ignore Advent, prefer Mother's Day to Pentecost, and isolate the observance of Christmas and Easter to one day each per year are capable of mounting Lenten programs and special emphases on such a scale as to make the Easter sunrise service seem anticlimactic. The inoculation, in the form of regular church attendance for several weeks, usually works, however, for by the Sunday after Easter Day, few pietistic eruptions are to be seen remaining on the body ecclesiastical. It seems odd that so much preparation has so little payoff for Christian discipleship.

The purpose of this introduction to Lent is not to provide a different program with a guaranteed long-range payoff, but rather to help those who preach and plan worship think about what they are doing in light of that entire period of time from Ash Wednesday to the Day of Pentecost and see it as an unbroken chain of days that links us to and makes us one with the apostolic Church and its experience of the saving Christ-event.

Remember that Easter Day was originally the only day in the Christian year! The early Christians met weekly on the first day of the week to pray, break bread, and share in the apostles' reminiscences of Jesus' earthly ministry (Acts 2:42) . Their meetings were characterized by an expectation of their Lord's immediate, sudden return. In this ecstatic atmosphere, one did not do long-range planning and goal setting. But even within the pages of the New Testament, we have indications that time is fast becoming a threat to Christian faith. Second Peter 3 is an effort to counter the arguments of the scoffers who deride the Christian hope. The answer that in the Lord's sight a thousand years are as one day might help relieve some of the Christian anxiety, but it did not change the fact that the Christians still had to make it through one day at a time on earthly calendars. Time, then, if it was not to be an enemy, had to be made a friend. It was through this domestication of time that the Christian year evolved.

The precise details of the evolution are impossible to know, varying as they doubtlessly did from region to region. The general outline is rather easy to discern. First, there was the weekly celebration of the Resurrection. This celebration was of the entire Paschal mystery: the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Ascension, the gift of the Spirit, and the promise of the Lord's return. There next emerged a special emphasis in the spring on the celebration of the Paschal feast in relation to the actual time of the historical event. This celebration extended itself back through the Crucifixion on Friday and the Last Supper on Thursday, thus creating the Paschal Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve, which carried over into Easter Day. We know that in Jerusalem the custom was begun of having the bishop ride a donkey into the city on the Sunday before the Passion and so inaugurate that period of observance that we call Holy Week. Just as the discrete events leading up to the Resurrection were separated for celebration, so also two other events that had been seen as part of the whole Paschal mystery were also given individual recognition: the Ascension forty days after Easter Day and the anointing by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost fifty days after.

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excerpt from: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary by Marion Soards, Thomas Dozeman, Kendall McCabe (Abingdon Press). Used with permission. This series of three books is part of the Ministry Matters Premium Subscription more information here.

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