The season of Lent is fast approaching. If you are in the Three Year Lectionary, this Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. If you use the One Year Lectionary, this is Quinquagesima. Either way, Ash Wednesday is now a week away and with it comes the season of Lent. In both cases, this brief period we are in is a time of preparation for Lent. Big changes are coming and we must be ready for them.
The change in liturgical seasons is more than just a manner of swapping out banners and paraments. The worship life of the church changes as well. Our focus in worship follows the life of Christ, as the service centers on the Scripture readings, those readings then direct our attention and everything else we do in the context of worship. We relive the life of Christ throughout the year and our attention is soon turning to that period of His life that immediately precedes the cross.
This is not something one simply jumps into. God had prepared the world for thousands of years for the coming of the Messiah and His sacrificial death to pay for the world’s sins. It may not sound like a big deal at first. After all, those of us who have put our faith and trust in Christ already know the forgiveness of sins. What need do we have to return to that time before Christ’s death, before forgiveness was truly a reality?
The answer to that is two-fold. First, as Christians who take seriously the sin of Adam and the corruption of sin that affects from the moment of conception, we also must acknowledge that we did not always know forgiveness. There was a time, however brief, where we did not know Christ or follow Him. There was a time when we were enemies of God and we rejected His grace. This is a dangerous time, for it is a time when our death would have meant eternal condemnation. This is a time we recall because it is one that we can choose to return to. Though we have His free gift of grace, we have the option to throw that gift away and return to a state of condemnation and death.
That makes Lent a season where we reflect on who we once were. As St. Paul says in Colossians, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We remember who we once were because the implicit warning is always there to not return to where you came from. We live now in the days after Easter. Don’t seek to return to your life before it.
Secondly, Lent also confronts us with the terrible cost of sin. This is what sin means. This is what sin demands. There is death. There is always death. As we approach Lent, we consider again what our Savior was willing to do for us. This is what He came for. It shouldn’t have been necessary, but He came anyway. God’s redemptive work begins in earnest in Lent and we remember why it was that He came.
This is why we put away our Alleluias. It isn’t that we have no reason to praise God, for God is always good and gracious toward us. We step back from our praise just a bit so that we may better reflect on the reality of sin and what our Savior did. Without the Law to point out our sin, we would have no desire for the Gospel. We immerse ourselves in the Law for Lent, so that the Gospel may shine all the brighter on Easter morning.