Lent means many things to different people. The word “Lent” comes from the same root as we also get “lengthen.” It refers to the lengthening of the days of spring. I like to think of it in terms how we might lengthen or extend our understanding of our Baptismal promises.
When we were baptized we not only received all the promises of God, but also made promises of our own to fulfill. They were either made by ourselves or by our parents. If they were made by our parents then we affirmed them as our own at confirmation. The promises God makes with us as we are baptized are to liberate us from sin, death and the power of the evil one, to join us to and integrate us into the people of God, to secure us in faith with the power of the Holying Spirit, to mark our lives with the sign of the cross, to inaugurate our servant mission in this world as God’s priestly people working on behalf of others and to reshape our lives to the form of God’s will for us. These are powerful promises and life-changing actions that keep us in the faith.
At the same time, we make incredible promises to God in our baptisms. Though it has been expressed differently at various times in our history as Lutherans, we promise to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
Though we embrace these promises all through the year, Lent becomes the time we focus in on the promises of baptism, both the promises God makes to us and those we make to God. We receive the promise of God as grace-filled assertions of good news for us and the world. We look to the promises we make in baptism as expressions of our love for God and for our neighbor, not only living out God’s commandments, but going beyond them to the ethics of the scripture in such places as the Sermon on the Mount and the other teachings of Jesus, the apostles and the prophets.
Lent is a time of contemplation, not only on how we are doing in these endeavors, but also on how God is doing on God’s part as well. It is much more than a time to examine our sinfulness, it is also a time to celebrate the gifts of God’s grace and mercy. While we inevitably fail to dot every “i” and cross every “t,” and sometimes worse, in our attempts to fulfill our end of the baptismal promises, God never misses a single opportunity to fulfill the promises on the other end. The scriptures tell us that God’s steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting, and God’s mercies are new every morning, that not one of the promises God has made has failed, that every one of the promises of God is a “yes,”.
So lift your drooping hands this Lent. Make strong your weak knees. Keep to the straight path of your Lenten journey. Pursue peace with all. Let mutual love continue. Be an example of Goodly living so that others may be encouraged by your deeds. See to it that others are so inspired by who you are that they too will want to be just like you. And when you fail to live up to these things, as you will, rest in the steadfast love, grace and mercy of our God whose promises will sustain and keep us.
Pastor Wendell Hendershott