Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?...” -- Matthew 16:24-26a
So everybody loves Christmas and Easter, right? And why not? After all, they are festivals of the church -- times when we celebrate the high points in the story of Jesus, and who doesn’t love a festival? But between those peak experiences of our church calendar comes this time of Lent… not a festival, but a time of quiet and reflective prayer and penitence…not a feast, but a fast. I understand: Lent is not the popular season. It’s the one left sitting alone in the corner, not the one everyone picks to take to the dance. But don’t let that fool you -- Lent can dance. It won’t do the Charleston, but it will, with slow deliberate steps, take you somewhere you need to go.
The dance of Lent begins with the two-step of Ash Wednesday, recognizing that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We remember our human limitations, and that this life which began in our mother’s womb shall end one day in the womb of the earth.
It picks up with the waltz of repentance. Instead of the regular 4/4 drumbeat of the other seasons, Lent is whole 40-day season that moves to its own rhythm. The ¾ waltz-time movement of Lent is a reminder that we are skipping something, giving up a piece of our regular routine. In Lent we try to drop that regular self-centered beat that keeps turning our attention back to our own desires. Try not to scratch that itch. Try not to eat that candybar. Bet you didn’t even know you were hungry till you just started thinking about it. Whether or not you “give something up” for Lent, hopefully you at least try harder to resist those mental messages.
In preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, the “tune” we will be playing for your dance of Lent this year comes from Luther’s Small Catechism. The Small Catechism was designed as a teaching tool of the faith, not just within the church but in the home. Martin Luther intended for the home to be the place where faith was first shared and taught. To that end he created the Small Catechism—a simple explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments. He included basic prayers for morning and evening, and suggested ways to worship, praise, and revere God during each part of our day.
In addition to weekly Wednesday services at 4pm and 7pm which will focus on the parts of the Catechism, we are offering copies of the excellent Lenten devotional Free Indeed, which invites us to consider each day how the Small Catechism helps us keep in step with God in our lives.
An old folk-hymn tells the story of the what happens to Jesus in between Lent and Easter. The song calls Jesus the “Lord of the Dance” because He shows us how to move through life with grace and love. He showed it most vividly when everyone thought the dance was over, when his life ended on a still and bloody cross. But the dance, as we know and as the final verse tells us, went on.
Our lives of faith include the daily rhythm of prayer, the weekly rhythm of worship, and the yearly rhythm of celebrating the seasons of fasts and festivals. Within that spectrum of spirituality, Lent serves as the slow-dance number that leads into and prepares us for the all-out swing dance jumping and jiving of Easter. But on the way to that all-out energy and exuberant joy, we slow-dance with Jesus through Lent, and hopefully by the end of it, we’ve learned how to let Him take the lead.