So yesterday was “Fat Tuesday”. . . the day before the season known as “Lent”. . . which happens to be a time for fasting and giving up certain foods. Here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, yesterday is affectionately called “Fastnacht Day”. . . “Fastnacht” being the German word translated “fasting night.” That being said, good Germans and others who love to eat fill themselves on the day before lent with “Fastnachts”. . . which most of us call “donuts.” The fact that donuts are the food of choice means that you would expect this to be a day and season embraced by youth workers!
But that’s not necessarily the case. I would guess that most of our churches have moved so far away from the rhythms of the traditional liturgical calendar that outside of Christmas and Easter, we know very little about the church year and what the different liturgies celebrate and mean. If we don’t know it, our kids most likely won’t know it either. I’m thinking that this is not a good thing.
As a child, I grew up in a liturgical church. As I got older, I admittedly lost my sense of the value of the church calendar. But over the last couple of decades, the liturgical calendar has gained new meaning for me as the ebb and flow of the year feeds my soul and deepens my love for Christ and the Gospel. There’s good reason why our spiritual forefathers throughout church history maintained and celebrated all the seasons, including Lent.
This morning, I went to my Book Of Common Prayer from the Anglican Church in North America to read the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, this day that marks the beginning of Lent. Here’s what the service officiant says at the opening of the Ash Wednesday service:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great
devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it
became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season
of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in
which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It
was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had
been separated from the body of the faithful, were reconciled by
penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the
Church. In this manner, the whole Congregation was put in mind
of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel
of our Savior, and of the need that all Christians continually have
to renew our repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word.
And to make a right beginning, let us now pray for grace, that
we may faithfully keep this Lent.
I would encourage you to lean into the great history of the church by learning more about this season of Lent. And, I would encourage you to engage yourself and your students in the practice of focusing on Christ and the Cross in these weeks leading up to Easter.
Here are two practices I’m choosing for the next few weeks.
First, some focused reading on the Cross of Christ. This year I’m going to read through The Story Of The Cross by Leon Morris, a series of Lenten reflections written in 1955 that take readers through Matthew’s account of the Passion. I would also recommend the more recent The Cross Of Christ by John Stott. Perhaps you have a favorite book on the Cross that you could pull off your shelf and read again. Maybe you have some students who would read along with you.
Second, I want to focus on a series of Lenten sermons. Our church traditionally hosts Wednesday evening Lenten services, which they are doing once again this year. As an added bonus, I recently discovered a series of Lenten sermons my dad preached forty years ago during 1981. The all focus on answering the question “Who Is Jesus?” I’ve transferred the old analog tapes into a digital format and have posted them on a YouTube channel I created after my dad’s death last April 1. I will be posting a new Lenten sermon from the series each week. You can access that YouTube channel here, or you can listen in by accessing the video I’ve embedded below. I’ll continue to post these sermons here every Wednesday during lent.
I pray that this Lenten series will be meaningful to you, and that in turn, you would lead students into a deeper celebration of Christ’s passion and resurrection.