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“Jesus, I will ponder now
On Your holy passion;
With Your Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of Your suff’ring, pain, and death
That I may not perish.”
(LSB 440:1)

These words echo in our church and our hearts throughout the forty days of Lent, a season which the Church has observed for over 1,600 years.  For centuries upon centuries Christians have spent these weeks leading up to Easter reflecting upon the unfathomable love of Christ, that he suffered betrayal, pain, grief, and death itself to atone for our sins and redeem us from the wrath we deserved.

Lent first began as a two-day time of fasting, with Good Friday and Holy Saturday spent in grief stirred by Jesus’ suffering and cold rest in the tomb.  It gradually grew into a forty day period, reflecting how long Jesus fasted in the wilderness before beginning his ministry (Matt. 4:2; Luke 4:2) and the time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God (Ex. 24:15-18).  In the first few centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, Lent was used as a time of preparation for those who wanted to be baptized, spent fasting and learning about how their Lord loved and saved them.

We, too, use Lent to reflect on our need for our Savior and the dire price at which we were redeemed.  To help us understand this more clearly, we stop singing the joyous word “Alleluia!”  The church altar and banners are purple, the color symbolizing repentance.  Many of us fast, intentionally depriving ourselves of food to better realize how frail we are in ourselves and how much we need God to sustain us.  We sing hymns which focus our attention on the depth of our sin and the depth of His love, as we see on the cross the truest witness to both.

After forty days of such dark gloom, we are weary and depressed.  But we will have missed the entire purpose of Lent if we have spent the entire season perpetually gazing into the bright mirror of the Law and locking our eyes onto the present darkness of our sinful souls.  God doesn’t spend Lent just telling you what a rotten person you are; he tells you in his Passion how much he loves you, how much he is willing to sacrifice for you.  Jesus’ broken body hanging on the cross doesn’t pronounce you condemned, but proclaims you redeemed, a proclamation sealed and celebrated in his glorious resurrection. 

So throughout Lent, whenever you see Jesus’ cross, hear these words of Scripture:

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 3:16, 4:9-10)

“If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let Your cross my fear disarm;
Peace of conscience give me.
Help me see forgiveness won
By Your holy passion.
If for me He slays His Son,
God must have compassion!”
(LSB 440:5)


Art: Christ Crucified by Diego Velázquez (1632)