Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday, which is always the Sunday just prior to Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras), a traditional day of preparation for fasting by eating up all the delicious things in your house. Today is President’s Day, which has nothing to do with any of this.
So let’s begin with Transfiguration Sunday. We have been celebrating the season of Epiphany, the manifesting of Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. We began with “firsts”: the worship of the Magi, the wedding at Cana. Along the way we have seen the various ways Jesus made himself known as the powerful, righteous, loving Savior. This season culminates with the Transfiguration, when the Father briefly lifted the veil and allowed the blazing glory of the Son of God to shine through. In this story (Mark 9, Matt 17, Luke 9) we see Jesus as the glorious Son of God who is doing the will of his Father, who is the culmination of the Law and Prophets (hence the presence of Moses & Elijah). There can be no doubt that this is the Promised One, the Servant of YHWH, the Savior of Israel. And it is shortly after this incident that Jesus begins his determined journey to Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51).
And so the church calendar now turns our attention to what the Son of God came to accomplish: the restoration of sinners to fellowship with God. And more broadly: he came to bring about the healing of universal brokenness and the establishment of a people for God in the kingdom of God. In order to do that, he must deal with sin.
In the season of Easter we will celebrate what Jesus did to defeat sin and bring sinners to God. Before that comes the season of Lent, a time to ponder our sin and brokenness. To uncover, expose, and be honest about our fallen condition so that we may turn away from that sin and turn to the Savior with newly softened heart and enlivened conscience.
Of all the seasons in the Christian year, the season of Lent is most difficult for many evangelicals to understand and participate in. Isn’t it just all so Catholic? Lent is often seen as the epitome of works-religion: I earn favor with God by making myself uncomfortable through giving up something I like.
No, like Advent and Epiphany, Lent is about seeing Jesus more clearly. And when we see Jesus clearly, we see ourselves rightly in relation to him: we are sinners who need what only he can provide. Referring to the biblical meditations that accompany Lent, beginning with the wilderness temptation and ending with Gethsemane, Bobby Gross summarizes Lent this way:
We can think of Lent as both a sojourn and a journey. We have two opportunities to identify with Jesus, one at the start of his public ministry and one near the end. The sojourn occurs in the desert as Jesus spends forty days alone in the self-reflection and discernment of God’s way. The journey takes place on the road to Jerusalem as Jesus moves toward his dark destiny. The sojourn causes us to look inward and acknowledge our human and spiritual vulnerabilities; the journey bids us look outward and weigh the costs of discipleship. Both involve turning. In the solitary sojourn, we turn away from our sins and temptations and toward God and his great mercy. This is otherwise known as repentance.
As such, Lent helps us prepare to celebrate Easter with the most appropriate focus and the most intense joy, because we see so vividly the life that he has brought into our death.
On Wednesday, I’ll write a bit on fasting as the season begins.