This coming Wednesday (March 5), also commonly known as Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a very important season in our Christian calendar. What is Lent? It began in the early church as a time for those who were going to be baptised to prepare themselves for baptism (in those days, baptism happened only once a year, on Easter) and for the reconciliation of those who had been excluded from the Church’s fellowship for apostasy or serious faults. Lent was a time for fasting and prayer as well as a time for them to study and learn about Christ and the doctrines of the church. Eventually the rest of the church was invited to join the baptism candidates and the penitents in this practice.
By the Council of Nicea in the 4th century, Lent had become an official season of the church calendar and was established as a 40-day period of fasting, repentance, and preparation. The period of 40 days was a time to remember Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness being tested by Satan, and also the Israelites’ 40 years of wilderness in desert. The calculation of the 40 days begins from Ash Wednesday, the 6th Wednesday before Easter, and continues right up to the end of the Holy Week, excluding the Sundays (the period of March 5-April 19). It is called Ash Wednesday because ashes are used as an ancient sign of repentance (see Job 42:6). Since the Middle Ages, it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross on the forehead.
At its heart Lent is a journey to wholeness, a journey of joining God in his redemptive and redeeming work in the world. But, that journey begins with a journey through brokenness by first confronting the brokenness in our own lives and in the world around us. We confront the barriers that keep us from God, the barriers that keep us from each other, and the barriers that keep us from God’s creation.
How can we observe Lent?
The Christian church has traditionally made this journey of observing Lent through an emphasis on fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Fasting has a way of making us more aware of what’s really important in life, when we give up that which is not important we realize what is important. Throughout the Christian history, the church has incorporated various forms of fasting – some fast for a meal, give up meat, dairy and eggs, etc. Today, many Christians who practice Lent choose what they want to give up for the 40 days – internet, Facebook, coffee, dessert, lunch, etc. But, indifferent to what type of fast is practiced the purpose is the same – to join in Christ’s suffering and in the suffering of the world. But far more important in giving up some of the pleasures in life is the challenge for us to give up sin.
But, fasting was never just for the sake of denial and self-discipline. The money saved during the fast was to be spent in almsgiving – in giving to the poor. This fast was a way to join with the suffering of the world and to play a part in alleviating that suffering. There was an emphasis during Lent on giving to and suffering on behalf of the poor and needy in the world.
The third practice of Lent is that of prayer. Through Lenten prayer we confess our failure, confess the ways we fall short, confess and recognise our need for a savior. Through Lenten prayer we recommit ourselves to Christ, to his church and to the redeeming work he is doing and desires us to do in the world around us. Through Lenten prayer we silence ourselves and listen to Christ’s heart for us and for the world.
All of these practices help us look forward to Easter. During Lent we dwell on the suffering and hardships of Christ, the suffering and sin in our own life and the suffering and brokenness in our world. So that when Easter comes we have a real sense of the great glory and victory that is found in Christ’s resurrection – yes our world is broken, yes our own lives are broken but Christ didn’t just suffer. He rose and with his resurrection he brought new life for all of us. So after a time of repentance and brokenness we can come to Easter knowing fully the importance and necessity of Christ’s resurrection and rejoicing fully in the complete and eternal fullness of life that he brings. And we can move on from there hopefully further along in our journey, more fully in tune with Christ, with ourselves and with the world around us.
Perhaps you might want to consider how you could prepare yourself for Easter this year through fasting, almsgiving and prayer. As a church we have put together a series of programmes to prepare us for a meaningful Easter. More information can be found in the following pages.
We pray that you will have a meaningful season of Lent as we all look forward to the resurrection of Christ on Easter.
Christian Education and Development
The Sign-Stories in the Gospel of John
March 23, April 6, and April 13 (Sundays)
Closing Date: March 16, 2014.
The Gospel of John is different from the other gospels in many aspects, and one of those is the way John describes the miracles of Jesus. John describe these miracles as “signs’. Step by step, John weaves these seven ‘sign-stories’ into his narrative to lead us unto the great story of the cross and resurrection. Particularly in the time of Lent it is therefore appropriate to read and reflect on this Gospel to help us prepare for the celebration of Easter. As we reflect through these “sign-stories”, we will discover the inner secret of each sign is Jesus himself and what he has to offer. Grace and truth are revealed in him and the signs show the often hidden glory of Jesus in the most amazing way. There is a lot of richness in the way John tells his story, in the words he chooses, in the way he characterizes the people around Jesus, in all the various ways they respond to the mystery of Jesus being revealed to them. This Gospel invites us to join these people and challenges us to respond to him personally. By reading these stories, we will receive and enjoy a deeper understanding of Jesus’ Messianic way.
About the Instructor:
Rev Nelly van Kampen is an ordained minister with the Protestant Church of the Netherlands and served as a local pastor for fifteen years. She has a heart for missions. From 1986 to 1992, she was a missonary to Sulawesi, Indonesia, where she worked with the Toraja Church and lectured New Testament at the Sekolah Tinggi Theologia in Rantepao. She also served as the chairperson of the Netherlands Missionary Council and editor of the Evangelical Theological. She is the author of Evangelism and the Local Church (2006), The First Letter of Peter (2007) and a study book on The Sermon on the Mount (1995). Currently she is a lecturer at Malaysia Bible Seminary (MBS).
Lent and Christian Spirituality Seminar
March 29 (Saturday)
Cost: RM20.00 (inclusive of refreshments, lunch and notes)
Closing Date: March 23, 2014.
The Lord is loving. The Lord is powerful. How do you know that is true? When was the last time, you heard personally from God? Have you experienced periods of silence of God? How did you handle it? How can you be sure that God is working in your life, even when you have not heard from God personally? Can you identify a time of wilderness experience in your life? What are the priorities in your life, as expressed by your time and money, enthusiasms and goals? Is there a secret ‘fast’ you can offer for a while (from television, or social media sites, for example) so that you can focus on what God really wants?
This Lent and Christian Spirituality seminar will draw on a pastoral reflection on the life, ministry and passion of our Lord Jesus, and help us navigate through these questions raised above. Time would be given for us to reflect on our own journey of faith as well as we prepare to celebrate Easter.
Session 1 : 400 years of God’s silence and Jesus’ birth
Session 2 : The calling and its cost: Jesus in the Desert.
Session 3 : The Ministry of Jesus: Servant, Shepherd, King
Session 4 : Between the Cross and the Resurrection
About the Instructor
Rev Dr Tony Lim has been involved in pastoral ministry since 1983, having pastored Evangelical Free Churches in PJ, Vancouver (Canada) and Kuala Lumpur. Tony is an ordained minister of the EFC, Malaysia. He is currently the Dean of Malaysia Bible Seminary, English Department. His wife, Teresa, is the Group MD of The Language Studio, which specialises in the teaching of English. They have two grown children.