Wednesday, December 2nd Matthew 6:16-18

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday in Epiphany, is like a preview of coming attractions. On the one hand, the scene of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah is an affirmation of Jesus’ ministry and a glimpse of the final culmination of God’s purposes at the end of time. On the other hand, Jesus still has work to do so he leads his disciples back down the mountain and starts the rest of the walk to Calvary.

That walk then takes the church into Lent and Holy Week. The timing for Lent is set by the date of Easter. Easter always falls… get this … on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (set at March 21st.) Easter then falls somewhere between March 22 and April 25th. Lent is the 40 day period (not counting Sundays which are always celebrations of the resurrection) before Easter, a reminder of the 40 years in the wilderness for the people of Israel and the 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a somber service of repentance and rededication to Christian discipleship. In many congregations, people will come to the altar twice in that service – first, for the imposition of ashes, a sign of our mortality and our repentance and then later for Holy Communion. The color for Lent is purple and the theme is discipleship, following Jesus to the cross and serving Jesus in our daily lives. At Covenant and at many other congregations, we have a special worship series on the Wednesday nights in Lent.

Lent ends with Palm Sunday, also recently called Passion Sunday. The first part of that worship service remembers Jesus entering Jerusalem that last week of his earthly life and then the mood changes with the reading of the Gospel lesson and the story of the crucifixion. Many congregations worship several times during Holy Week, the week before Easter – Maundy Thursday which remembers the institution of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, Good Friday, remembering the crucifixion, the Easter Vigil on Saturday night in preparation for Easter, and then Easter Sunday morning. Whew!

I look back at this brief “schedule” of the holiest time in the Christian calendar and I realize once again that we are wise to observe Lent, not so much by “giving stuff up” but by “adding worthwhile stuff” to our lives during the season – setting aside time for prayer, reading the Bible, worshipping, serving, learning and growing. The point of the whole season is not to impress God with our piety and acts of devotion but to quiet ourselves down enough to realize anew what God has done and continues to do in, with and for us in Jesus.

The goal of the whole church calendar is not that we serve the schedule but that the schedule serves us – “Man was not made for the Sabbath.” As we follow and observe the rhythms of the Lenten season, it takes us to new places of silence, of contemplation, of centeredness.

Maybe it even quiets us down enough that we actually catch that brief glimpse that means everything – that we see ourselves caught up in God’s purposes, in God’s love, in God’s sacrificial love.

Let us pray: In every season of our lives, O Lord, we run the risk of missing the point. Now, at the edge of Advent, and thinking ahead to Lent and Easter, the holy days rush in upon us and distract us from what matters. So we pray that you help us to slow down, to set aside time to be, to ponder, to listen, and to give thanks for your presence, your purpose and your power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Responses to “Wednesday, December 2nd Matthew 6:16-18”

  1. Nanette Says:

    This is lovely! THis year our church has felt that we needed to break away from the traditional liturgical calendar and so our Advent focus has been Lent. This has been such a blessing to us, especially since the two are so intertwined. It has given us new insight into the cost of the birth and the new life in the death of Jesus (we celebrated Christmas and Advent during traditional Lent). God has so richly blessed us and we are reaching out in new and exciting ways. Seeking God’s timing has been an expression of deep devotion to Him that has caused many of us to feel like we are unable to contain the love of Christ within us any more. Artisits are freely painting to honour God, poets are writing new psalms, community meals are being shared… God is good.

  2. LJH Says:

    Good MAEN Pastor,
    Thank you for this glimpse of the liturgical year.
    You said Lent lasts 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, except for the Sundays which are a celebration of Easter each week. Then you said Lent ends on Palm Passion Sunday. Which is it? If we remove the Sundays in Lent, we have to celebrate Holy Week as a part of Lent to get the 40 days. If Lent ends at Palm Passion Sunday, we have to count the Sundays as part of Lent to get the 40 days. Which is it? This has confused me for years!

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