Lent: Why now?

given on Sunday, March 14, 2010

At different times in our life, we face major trials.  Probably the first words that bubble up in our mind is “Why now, Lord?”  Sometimes it seems like just when nothing else can happen, something does and there seems to be nothing left to give to the new crisis or issue.

“Why now, Lord?” becomes a cry, a complaint, a sigh of exhaustion as one wonders how in the world to manage the challenge.  “Why now” certainly is not “Why not now!”  Put yourself in the footsteps of Jesus and the Disciples.  What words would you have uttered when you learned that the three years you have been working to spread the good news were going to suddenly end in your death or the death of your teacher?

Last week we studied communion and how it is modeled after the Last Supper.  We follow the tradition of serving communion on the first Sunday of each month, but what about the observance of Lent?  Why do we celebrate Lent at this particular time of year?

As we reviewed earlier, Lent represents the 40 days of Jesus’ wilderness experience after his cousin John baptized him by water and the Holy Spirit.  According to the website Upper Room Ministries, wilderness experience:

. . .were the 40 days of preparation for the beginning of his ministry.  The number 40 must have been an important number in Judeo/Christian history relating to preparation.  (Remember that the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land.)

The six Sundays during Lent are not included in the actual days of Lent.  (For some reason, this is the first time it registered that Lent does not include the Sundays.  According to the various resources I checked, the Sundays during Lent are considered “practice Easters.”)

Passover is the Jewish holiday that Jesus and the Israelites celebrated recognizing the end of their slavery in Egypt.  This is an important historical reference in understanding why Lent—and/or Easter—is celebrated during the spring.  The traditions of the Jewish faith were firmly established in the culture so it is natural as Jesus’ followers were making the transition from the old traditions into the new traditions; they modeled many of the practices of the Jewish faith.

Jesus was still Jewish, and the Passover was a time that could not be ignored.  What better time for God to bring the focus on Jesus?  The people were going to be gathered in Jerusalem, families were together, and supplies were prepared for the celebration.

The Jewish people celebrate Passover following the Jewish calendar, not the calendar with the Georgian calendar which Christians are familiar:

Passover is an eight-day long celebration that begins on the night of the fifteenth day of the month of Nissan of the Hebrew calendar.  The highlight of the Passover celebration is the ceremony of Seder performed on the first two evenings of Passover.  (accessed on 3-13-10:  http://www.happypassover.net/passover-calendar.html)

Since Passover serves as a starting point of our Christian celebration of Lent, that is why Spring, specifically late February, March, and some of April, is when we have Lent and Easter.

This discussion can get very complicated.  The calendars are different; the traditions are different; and yet the two holidays are directly connected.  In fact, God’s timing is ideal for helping the Israelites understand that Jesus is the Savior.  Reading the Old Testament scripture today, it is important to understand the connection to the New Testament scripture.

Why was Passover the right time?  Why was it time for Jesus to end his ministry?  Why was God sure that Jesus’ followers were ready to be left alone?  These questions are much more critical than understanding why the dates of Lent and Easter change each year.  On that night of the last supper, the Disciples asked, “Why now?”

In Joshua, the explanation is connected to the Israelites exile in the dessert for 40 years.  As they ended the nomadic lifestyle and dependence on God for all means of survival, they became self-sufficient.  Listen to verses 11-12 again:

12 Right away, the day after the Passover, they started eating the produce of that country, unraised bread and roasted grain. And then no more manna; the manna stopped.  As soon as they started eating food grown in the land, there was no more manna for the People of Israel.  That year they ate from the crops of Canaan.

The answer is there:  “as soon as they started eating the food grown in the land, there was no more manna.”  For the first time during the 40 years, the Israelites were capable of providing food for themselves.  They no longer needed God to provide for them.

The Life Application Bible’s study notes revealed this:

Prayer is not an alternative to preparation, and faith is not a substitute for hard work.  God can and does provide miraculously for his people as needed, but he also expects them to use their God-given talents and resources to provide for themselves.  If your prayers have gone unanswered, perhaps what you need is within your reach.  Pray instead for the wisdom to see it and the energy and motivation to do it.

Jesus was born into the world to teach man how to live by the New Covenant.  Jesus taught the Disciples what they needed to know and how to use their faith to follow God, to transform the world, in the three years of his ministry.  God had prepared the world, provided the model, the tools, and the Holy Spirit to leave the men and women of the world to carry his work forward.  No longer was Jesus, God as man, necessary to carry out the New Covenant.  God had confidence that his one commandment could spread.

In 2 Corinthians 5:16-22, Paul is managing to continue the ministry.  His efforts took Jesus’ work outside the region Jesus walked, and moved it to new communities.  The church in Corinth, too, had been given the skills they needed to continue independent of Paul; yet, the letters Paul sent them strengthened them.

Jesus was crucified to seal the New Covenant.  God had confidence that the three years of Jesus’ work on earth was enough for his followers to carry on the message.  Paul’s effort is a prime example of how the work continued, and we could list other historical disciples who have continued the work since Paul’s days walking the paths around the Mediterranean region.  The Life Application Bible’s study notes outlines the work:

As believers, we are Christ’s ambassadors, sent with his message of reconciliation to the world.  An ambassador or reconciliation has an important responsibility.  We dare not take this responsibility lightly.  How well are you fulfilling your commission as Christ’s ambassador?

Each year, we stop for 40 days to review, reflect, and renew our faith in Jesus.  When we are asked to tackle this job once more, we might think, “Why now?”  How can we possibly take on one more responsibility, one more task, one more expectation?  Why now?

The answer is, as we so often hear, why not now?  When we ask how can we do this, the answer is right there in the Bible, too:  God has given you all the skills, all the talents, and all the strength possibly needed to accomplish the job.  Now we know, why did Jesus have to die after only three years of ministry:  God was convinced that his people were equipped with all that was needed to carry on the job.  And what is that job:  to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  Remember what Paul told his church at Corinth:

The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

Dear God,

We are reviewing our lives during this Lenten year.  We are trying to strip away all the mystery of why do we observe Lent, why Jesus died, and why are asked to carry on as ambassadors for Christ.  We take the words of the Bible and seek answers.  We share our ideas among our friends and family making sure we understand.  We talk to you day after day seeking guidance, assurance, and strength to carry on.  As we accept our task and learn why now we must serve, we seek your guidance, your strength, and your grace, so we may share the alleluias of Easter with our neighbors.

–Amen

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