Love and Sacrifice in Lent
Love can look like many different things. It is easy to think of Valentine’s Day as “Love Day,” “Heart Day,” or a time for romance that may be neglected for our spouses or significant others all the rest of the year. But Valentine’s Day is not really about love, any more than Cheese Whiz is real dairy. As Lutheran Christians, we have a very real, very tangible definition and examples of love given to us by God in His Word.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
You may feel as though you hear that passage so often, at weddings or even frequently used by those with only a passing acquaintance to the Christian faith. It may often be used in a romantic way, and yet this is the love that we as believers have for one another in Christ.
Lent is a very somber time, as we bid farewell to alleluias, meditate on our trespasses and repentance, and focus on rending our hearts and not our garments. But I argue that Lent is a tremendous expression of that Christ-like love, which we see as we tread the journey of Christ’s passion to the cross, culminating on Good Friday. You are welcome to disagree with me, but I ask that if you do, stick with Lent and our midweek services at St. John Lutheran from Ash Wednesday through Holy Week, all the way to Easter. See if your mind doesn’t change as you follow the narrative of Christ’s sacrifice for me, for you, on the cross, as He who knew no sin became sin for us.
That is love. Giving up all for one with no way of ever repaying such a fathomless act of mercy. When we speak of God the Father, it really is helpful for me to imagine the way a parent talks to a child. Children are helpless, unable to provide for themselves or carry out the daily responsibilities of adult life for many reasons, and yet they cannot help it. It is in their nature. Their vocation, at that stage of life, is to be a child: respecting their parents, following rules of the house, studying in school, and so on.
It is not given to children to pay taxes, buy groceries, manage a checking account, or any number of mundane but necessary tasks that we know as adults. Beyond that, we know they are incapable at that stage of life. That is not to say that they are any less valuable because of their inability to manage a home, but that they are different. It is in their nature, just as much as it is in their sinful nature to disobey sometimes, part of a parent’s vocation being to discipline them out of love.
Because of original sin, sin is part of our nature as human beings. In Pastor Troy’s Sunday morning Bible study, we’re working through “Lutheranism 101,” a great primer for young and seasoned Lutherans alike to quickly pick up the doctrine that we hold dear, and hold as life. A five-dollar word we discussed is “concupiscence.” This basically means that, because of original sin, we as humans “ignore and despise God, lack fear and trust in Him, hate His judgment and flee from it, are angry at Him, despair of His mercy, and trust in temporal things,” and “are actually incapable of doing otherwise.” (Lutheranism 101, p. 33) That‘s a pretty messed up state to find ourselves in.
It is “nice” to think about what we can give up or go without that we might care about, as some are in the custom of doing for Lent: candy, coffee, alcohol, leisure shopping trips, video games…so many things can distract from what is truly needful in our earthly lives, and that is loving and leaning on our gracious and merciful Heavenly Father through Christ Jesus. It has long been a tradition in the Church to let go of some things that we are attached to, but is giving up that candy bar really equivalent to Christ’s brutal and humiliating scourging, torture, and death on the cross? Is missing a couple beers or some levels of a game for 47 days going to atone for the limitless sins I have already committed in my short life, the billions more I will commit, and the sinful side of my dual redeemed nature as both sinner and saint? No. By my own efforts, I cannot free myself from my sinful condition.
“I, a poor miserable sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’ name I have no honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.” (LSB 292)
That is part of the rite of individual confession and absolution that we hold in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as part of our Lutheran Service Book, from where many of our hymns and orders of service come. Our sin is an irreversible condition, and Jesus, the Christ, is our only prescription that guarantees life worth having and living. Jesus reversed the irreversible by overcoming death when He rose on Easter morning. Because His promise is good, we can also be sure that. Having “been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” through God’s miraculous mercy in baptism. (Romans 6:5)
As you continue joining us for weekend and midweek services, if you choose to give up anything for Lent, “give up” some free time. Spend it in prayer. Dig into God’s Word, or find a reading plan to work through part of the Bible, like the Gospels or Epistles. Share your blessings with others by volunteering with a local food pantry. When we approach God in the means He has given us, through His Word and sacraments, we grow closer to Him, and so too do our faiths. When we step outside of ourselves to grow in relationships with others, it can be surprising to witness the opportunities we are given to share the love of Christ with others, simply by bearing their burdens.