By Riccardo Stewart
As Christians, we are rather familiar with the mantra, “we are saved by grace and not works.” The statement is true, and it comes from the beautiful gleanings of the Protestant Reformation, and even more accurately from our sacred scripture (Eph. 2:8–9, which we’ll preach on soon). Remaining consistent with this statement (we are saved by grace and not works), many well-intentioned followers of Christ are afraid of doing any “works” that may somehow be confused as something done in attempt to earn their salvation. While many are comfortable with works such as reading the Scriptures, praying, attending worship services, etc., they become uneasy with things like following church calendars or observing the approaching Lenten season. Why is that?
When I was a freshman in college, the first thing I did upon moving into my dorm was put up pictures of my family. While I loved my family, and my family loved me, nailing the pictures to the wall didn’t increase the love in either direction. By looking at the pictures daily, I was reminded of their love for me, and it also raised my affection and love for them. By establishing a daily of my family, I was, in a sense, drawn closer to them, and my love was deepened. Why would I not want to do something that not only expressed my love but also enhanced it? And why would I not do something that reminds me of our relationship and their love for me?
As followers of Christ, we need daily reminders of our relationship with God, through Christ, by the Spirit. Such reminders are of massive importance as we seek to draw near to God, deepening our relationship with him and allowing our hearts be warmed by his affection for us. God loves us. He has expressed his love for us in the work of his Son Jesus. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). The Lenten season can be observed in a way in which we metaphorically hang up pictures of Christ to remind us of the love of God. We can use the 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Easter as a period in which to create space and rhythms that remind us that we have a great Savior in Jesus, and a great love from a Father.
Through rhythms of prayer, fasting, confession, community, silence, and solitude, we are each daily hanging up pictures that remind us of the grace, mercy, and love that has been extended to the world by Jesus Christ. While remembering and confessing sin, we simultaneously remember Jesus’ selfless, sacrificial atonement for all our sin. While hanging up pictures of the death and destruction that have been brought by sin, we are hanging just pictures of the new life that has been brought by the resurrection of Christ. All of the pictures on our walls could be used as daily reminders that we are loved. Why would we not want to be reminded of the love of God that we have fully in Christ? Why, then, would we not wish to observe Lent?
It is by no means mandatory to attend an Ash Wednesday service; God will still love you. It is not mandatory to observe the 40 days of Lent; Christ’s blood was still spilled for you. Truly, God will love you whether or not you hang up pictures—he is that good to us. However, joining with other believers around the world in creating space on our walls to see, know, and be reminded of God’s love for us in Jesus is something incredibly special. My prayer each year is that in observing Lent, I would be intentionally, through God’s grace, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Her 12:2). So, I ask, why not Lent?