From the Disk of the Pastor March 2010
Dear Friends in Christ,
This year, Lent encompasses the whole month of March. In the Middle Ages this was a time of great sacrifice. You couldn’t eat meat during Lent. People were told to fast. In fact, fasting was so extreme that special brews of beer, called boch beer were produced. These beers were heavier with more nutritional value so that those not eating wouldn’t pass out. In fact the restrictions were so severe that people began to develop the custom of having a great celebration just before Lent. They would party to excess before the time when the weren’t allowed to party. This would be the origins of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the various Carnivals in the South American nations. The absurdity of this is that they would sin with wild debauchery before the time they were to spend confessing their sins. I guess they would know what to confess.
Luther, at the time of the Reformation preached against the extremes. Lent was good if it was used as time to rededicate one to the Word of God. But the radical fasting and such were presented as ungodly and work righteous.
So what should Lent be for us? A time to get more deeply into the Word. It should be a time of study and reflection. Confession should be a part of Lent. Confession should flow out of our study of the Word.
This view of Lent actually takes us back to the origins of the Lenten Season. The first annual festival celebrated by the early Church was Easter. They probably started celebrating this during the time of the Apostles - so between 60-80 A.D. It soon became the custom to baptize new converts on Easter. Around the year 400 A.D. there were so many converts that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would baptize from sunset on Holy Saturday until Easter sunrise. That’s a lot of baptisms. In the weeks before, the catechumens would dedicate their entire day to the study of the Word in preparation for Baptism. This soon was established as the forty day season of Lent. When the Church became settled and there were few converts, Lent became a season for everyone to re-examine the Scriptures.
What are some practical things to do during Lent? Read through the Small and Large Catechisms. Examine some of our hymns. A good one to consider is a hymn we will use a number of times this Lenten Season - “O Love How Deep, How Broad, High.” (LSB 544) This is a Medieval hymn that made it’s first appearance among us in Lutheran Worship (1982). Select a portion of Scripture that is not familiar and read through it a couple times, so that it becomes familiar. If you wish to do deeper study, you can read through that volume of The Peoples Bible. This is a commentary series directed at lay people first produced by the Wisconsin Synod’s Northwestern Publishing House. They are available through both Northwestern and our own Concordia Publishing House.
Skipping meals and other pious exercises might be okay for some. In many cases they miss point. Lent should be a time of study and meditation. In this way we use the Word to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death, for us.
Rev. Jody Walter
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.