By Pastor David M. Choi
Time Now Redeemed:
Calendars are a wonderful tool, are they not? We all know that calendars help us keep track of time, but something we may not always be aware of is that they also help us locate our existence within history. That for whatever reason we live in this particular moment, and not in any other. Indeed, earthly calendars are helpful. But they are only helpful to a certain extent. You see, while they might help us determine our historical location, what they can’t do is help us determine its meaning.
The early Christians had a very sophisticated understanding of the incarnation. Like us, they believed in the limitless God taking on the limitedness of human flesh in Jesus Christ. Yet, because of that, they also understood that that equally meant that the eternal God had entered into created time. In other words, the early church believed that by entering into a body God did not only come to redeem our bodies, but that by entering into a body he came to redeem time as well. After all, what good would it do to redeem our bodies if the time by which we make sense of those bodies were not also redeemed?
For this reason, the early church crafted the Christian calendar, precisely because God has redeemed time, and because the church now lives in the time that God has redeemed. You see, it points us to the reality that the gospel breathes new meaning and life into our earthly calendars and existence, and that the gospel now calls us to participate in the reality of God’s kingdom by living according to God’s time and not the world’s. This is why, unlike some today, Christians throughout the ages have never found the Christian calendar as decorative or superfluous. For them, it was the gospel coming to life, and that life helping them to better understand the gospel.
Though our church has never completely dismissed the Christian calendar, it wasn’t until recently that, by God’s grace, we were given the ability to rediscover the beauty and the significance of its full depth and breadth. Which is why we are doing something we’ve never done before, and that is having a morning Ash Wednesday prayer service. You see, by being here, what our church is really saying is that we want to better honor the incarnation of the Son, to be more faithful observers of the time now redeemed, and to be better participants of God’s kingdom reality. This is why we’re here, and this is why I am grateful.
Lent as Preparation:
So, after Advent, Lent is the next major season of the Christian year, the time now redeemed. If you don’t know, Lent is the forty-day period leading up to Easter, and what it represents is Jesus’ forty-day preparation for public ministry as he spent time alone in the wilderness. In the same way, Lent is a time when we Christians intentionally set aside the next forty days to deepen our relationship with God.
Now, obviously, this is something we should be doing throughout our entire lives, but we all know that we have a natural inclination to put our relationship with God on the backburner. Either because we get lost in the busyness of our professional lives and/or academic studies, or because we’ve just grown spiritually complacent and dull. Thus, Lent is a time for us to reposition ourselves again in Christ.
The tone of this season, however, is marked by penitence and solemnity. That is, to grow in our love for God and others, we are called to use this time to reflect on our own spiritual lives, by taking inventory of our sins, by praying and fasting, and by repenting and serving others. And as we do so, what we are doing throughout this season is we are preparing our hearts for what Christ has done on Easter morning.
So, this is a time when we focus our mind’s eye on what it means to be followers of Jesus, while resetting the compass of discipleship by training our hearts to press on after Christ. And as the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this penitent season.
Ash Wednesday (Remembering Who We Are):
To prepare our hearts for Lent, we gather here this morning for corporate prayer and repentance, and to receive what’s known as the imposition of the ashes. The ashes are a reminder of not only where we come from, but where we end up at the end of our lives: the dust. As God says in Genesis 3:19, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” However, the shape of the cross stands as the sure reminder that death will not have the last word; that through repentance and faith in Christ our Lord we have eternal life.
As we bear these marks throughout the day, what it publicly signifies is that we have now entered into Lent. But the most obvious of all, it publicly signifies to our classmates and colleagues that we are Christians, and that we are not ashamed of the gospel, because as Paul says hope does not put us to shame (Rom. 5:5).
So, I now invite the Calvary Baptist Church of New Haven to observe this moment of holy prayer and corporate repentance to prepare our hearts for Lent, for the sake of growing closer to our holy and most wonderful God, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.