During the season of Lent, you will notice a number of things that are different around the alter and in the liturgy. Most notable will be the change of color from green to purple. The use of purple symbolize both the pain and suffering leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus as well as being a color of Jesus’ royal kingship and of his royal priesthood. There will be no flowers on the altar during Lent reflecting the focus on repentance over celebration. The objects on the communion table will be simpler, which is one of the reasons we use pottery for communion instead of silver.
One of the most notable changes in the liturgy is the omission of alleluia—a term which signifies joyful praise to God.
Similar to the season of Advent where we come with an anticipation and a hope for the coming Messiah, Lent leads us with an anticipation and hope that we will one day experience the fullness of the resurrection when Christ comes again. It reminds us that we live today in what theologians call the already but not yet of the kingdom of God. So we live today with the recognition of our great need for continual repentance and healthy understanding of our weakness. To forgo certain liturgical practices, like saying alleluia during Lent, helps us live with a greater anticipation in this season of the hope of the resurrection.
Repentance leads us to see the poverty of our sin so that we can see the riches of God’s love and mercy given to us in Christ. Being confident of God’s love shown to us in Christ, we are free to examine our hearts, knowing that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). It is God’s grace alone that allows us to examine our hearts, admit the sinful patterns that we have been living out of and the lies that we have been believing, and turn toward the gospel truth that sets us free.
In Psalm 139:23-24, David asks one of the most important questions leading us to repentance—“Search me, O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me to the way everlasting!” Other questions we can ask ourselves to help open our eyes to those places of sin in our lives include:
- What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for Christ has grown cold?
- In what ways is my devotion to Christ and his church less than wholehearted?
It can be scary to ask God to search our hearts. Some of us know exactly what he will find and we want to do our best to keep God from it. The reality is that God, being all knowing, already knows what is there and longs for us to repent and receive his redeeming grace! That is God’s heart for us. This type of self-examination leads us to the place where we see the depth of our sin so that we can see the height of God’s unconditional love for us.
Fasting is another practice or spiritual discipline that leads us to examine our hearts. Fasting is about letting go of something we rely on in order to feast on the Lord in that space. Fasting leads us to bring our hunger and thirst before the Lord so that he alone would satisfy our deepest longings. Fasting exposes things that we have been relying on for comfort, strength, relaxation and identity. This is where it begins to get uncomfortable. But if we want to continue to grow as disciples, we must continually uncover and surrender those vices that keep us from greater devotion and surrender to God. As you prepare your heart for Lent, ask what the Lord might be calling you to give up so that you can begin to taste in a greater way that the Lord is good and that he alone satisfies all our desires.
ACTS OF COMPASSION
A third practice or spiritual discipline intentionally observed during Lent is participating in acts of compassion. Throughout the gospels we read how Jesus had compassion on the sick, downtrodden, needy and marginalized. As you examine your heart during this season of Lent, ask:
- Do I have compassion on people as Jesus had compassion on them?
- Do I love those whom Jesus loved?
- Jesus, what does it look like to love my family with your compassion?