The Many Deaths of Lent

ancient-future timeTurns out the first casualty of Lent 2018 was Jesus.

Let me explain.

I heard two high quality sermons on the first Sunday on Lent.  On Sunday morning, I heard a great sermon rooted in the prophet’s vision in Isaiah 6.  Well-rendered, thoughtful, and an eye on sin and forgiveness (“for I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips”).  That night I heard a sermon on the deadly sin of envy (after an Ash Wednesday sermon on pride).  Great stuff about a topic rarely spoken about (the Gospel reading, which involved laborers working differing amounts of time for the same wage was worth any price of admission).  But it wasn’t quite about Jesus.

Bear with me.

According to Robert E. Webber in Ancient-Future Time, the season of Lent is “a time to travel the road with Jesus toward his death.”  This plays out over the five Sunday’s before Palm Sunday with different emphasis (much like each week of Advent focuses on a particular disposition or connection to preparing for the first and second comings of Jesus).  “The first Sunday after Ash Wednesday asks us to mark our spirituality by the temptation of Christ,” Webber asserts.  Building off of the images of the first and second Adam, Webber continues:

The church fathers saw the temptation as a turning point in the process of reversing the human situation.  For here, the fathers tell us, is the exact counterpart to Adam.  Adam yielded to the temptation.  Christ overcame the temptation . . .

The serpent in the Garden of Eden and the tempter in the wilderness represent the enticement to sin that lies in the very structure of the world itself . . .

Lent is a time to intentionally confront all the ways the first Adam continues to control our lives, to carry these ways to the cross, to let them be crucified with Jesus, and to bury them in the tomb never to rise again.

In light of this, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the approaches to the two sermons I heard on the first Sunday of Lent.  The challenge of the two cycles of the Christian calendar, though, is to learn to live in the rhythms of the stories of Jesus.  Travel as far back in the Old Testament and as far ahead in the New as we may, we must always come back to the life and love of Jesus.  One Sunday, much like one Lenten season, does not make or break anything.  But as I’ll explain in tomorrow’s post, there’s something about the Christian calendar that really appeals to me (and to my great hope for a life long in Christian belief and practice.

That or maybe even my own expectations about the Christian life and the Christian calendar have to die a kind of death, too.

(image from

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