From Pastor’s Desk
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The season of Lent is upon us. It begins this Wednesday evening with Ash Wednesday. I wanted to let you know what I am planning to do for the themes for the Lenten midweek services after Ash Wednesday.
Lent consists of the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday—the Sundays in Lent are not included in these 40 days. Lent was originally a time used to prepare converts to Christianity for Holy Baptism, which took place during the Easter vigil on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. The focus of the preparation was on instruction in Christian teaching under the theme of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV).
This verse became thematic for the preparation of converts through instruction in Christian teaching as the number of converts to Christianity from paganism increased dramatically when Christianity became the religion of the ancient Roman empire under the Emperor Constantine. Christianity involves different beliefs, understandings, and ways of thinking about God than paganism. So, the Apostle’s instruction not to be conformed but to be transformed through a renewal of the mind seemed particularly fitting. The Apostle’s instruction is fitting for us who live in a culture that is being thoroughly secularized and increasingly teaches that the self makes its own rules in answer to no one.
The Apostle’s admonition, however, should not be limited to just one season of the church year. It should also not be limited to just those who may be new to Christianity. It should be something we all seek and are engaged in ongoingly as part of Christian life. Renewal in terms of what we believe and how we think is a life-long need as we never cease to live in the world and its pressure to conform to its ways of believing, thinking, and living.
Nevertheless, we may use Lent as a special time of focus as time moves us toward those events of Holy Week—Christ’s death and resurrection for us—that are central to our Christian faith. We undertake this as Lutherans through study and reflection on God’s Word centered in Jesus Christ and reflected in Law and Gospel in humble and prayerful reflection upon one’s faith and life in light of God’s Word.
It goes without saying that there are many possible themes we could pursue as a study of God’s Word. For the five Wednesdays in Lent that begin on March 4, I have resolved to pursue a scheme that involves five important things or themes in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in Christ, while then also wrapping us into them as Christ’s people. We can pursue this in the light of Jesus telling us that the OT Scriptures ultimately relate to Him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39). We can call the overall theme
“Jesus, the Old Testament, and You.”
We may pursue this theme by looking at Temple, Anointing, Word, Sacrifice, and Feast.
- Temple involves the presence of God. God promised in the OT that He would put His Name at the Temple. But then we realize that Jesus is the “temple” of God in His own person as “something greater than the Temple is here” (Mat. 12:6) and “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). But then we also realize that we are the temple of God as Christ’s people (1 Cor. 3:10-17). In Jesus, God is present with us through His Spirit.
- Anointing is a common theme in the OT. It became crystalized in the promise of the “anointed one” or Messiah. Jesus is this One (John 4:26). He was anointed as Christ and the Servant of the Lord for ministry at His baptism. But you and I are also “anointed” in Christ as “little Christ’s” and servants of the Lord as we are baptized into Christ. Have you thought about your own baptism and yourself this way? What difference does that make for you in the renewal of your mind?
- Word refers to God’s word and makes us think of prophets, through whom God spoke in the OT. In this speaking God revealed Himself, His will, His plan of salvation, and important things about us and our world. The author of Hebrews then reminds us that God now speaks to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2a). Jesus selected and commissioned apostles to provide the deposit of God’s Word of the New Testament for the church. This word is now yours as Christ’s people to shape your faith, thinking, and living.
- Sacrifice involves the concept of priest and the OT sacrificial system. But all of that pointed ultimately to the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As the second to the last Wednesday before Holy Week, this theme directs our attention to Christ’s sacrifice for us as our “High Priest.” But then we also realize that in Christ, you are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). As priests, we offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). But this is not to atone for sin, which only Christ as our High Priest in the offering of Himself can do and has done, but to offer our lives in service to God, each other, and our neighbor, as we also do the things priests do with respect to prayer, attentiveness to God’s Word, and sacrifice. Have you thought of yourself this way? What difference does it make in not being conformed to the world but renewed in your mind?
- Finally, there is the theme of “feast.” We think of the Passover, in which the OT faithful ate the Passover lamb together in remembrance and celebration of the deliverance God accomplished through the Red Sea. Now Jesus our Passover lamb has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7), and He has provided a feast for us, by which we also partake of His sacrifice through eating and drinking in faith in the mystery, the Sacrament, of His body and blood. But this is not all. We partake of His sacrifice in anticipation of that great feast at the consummation of all things when we will eat with Christ and His people of all time, a great and mighty congregation, in victory, in eternal peace and joy, at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which lasts forever (Mat. 26:29; Rev. 19:7). What difference does wanting to partake in that feast with the Lord make for not being conformed but renewing your mind in Christ as you partake of the Lord’s Supper here?
I am looking forward to developing this scheme for mediation on God’s Word and hope you will be able to find time to gather on these Wednesdays in Lent to meditate on these themes with me.
Blessings and peace, Pastor Westby