Ash Wednesday and Lent
The church calendar revolves around the two most impactful events of Christ’s life; his birth (Christmas) and his resurrection (Easter). Both of these events are preceded by seasons of preparation. Advent prepares us for Christ’s coming, and Lent prepares us for Christ’s death and resurrection. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (February 14 this year) and continues for 40 days, not counting Sundays, and concludes the day before Easter.
The most common and well known practice of the Lenten season is fasting. Reflecting Jesus’ forty day fast in the wilderness, Lent’s forty days of fasting invites us to open our hearts and minds to notice the things we have put before or between our relationship with Jesus. Then, with humility and courage, we intentionally set those things aside and renew our focus on Jesus as our source of life.
Historically, fasting has focused on abstaining from food, but over time, the Lenten fast has come to include anything from sweets or alcohol to social media or television. Whatever is chosen, the point of fasting is to redirect our focus to God. When our impulse is to grab a sweet snack or scroll through social media, fasting invites us to redirect our attention to the only One who can truly satisfy our longings.
Being that we are following the church calendar, we will hold our first Ash Wednesday Service to mark the beginning of Lent. After a brief reflection on the goodness of God and our ongoing need for repentance, the service will conclude with ‘the imposition of ashes.’ This is a time for those who have committed to the coming forty days of fasting to have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. It is important to note that while this practice is new to many of us, it is meant to reflect a practice from scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, a devoted Israelite would cover themselves in ashes as a sign of their grief and sorrow. In a similar, but less dramatic fashion, the ashes on our foreheads serve as a symbol of our grief and sorrow for allowing other things to come before our devotion to God.
While Lent and Ash Wednesday are fairly new to many of us at Monte Vista Chapel, devoted Christians from around the world have found this season to be deeply spiritual as they reorient their lives around God and his redemptive plan for the world. If you would like to join in this tradition, we ask you to consider how, and what God is inviting you to fast from during the forty days of Lent. You are then welcome to join others from the community to mark your commitment at the Ash Wednesday service. Finally, remember that Jesus, through his Spirit, is walking with you during your forty days of fasting. He knows what it is to be tempted, and he will gladly give you the grace you need to trust in your heavenly Father to meet your deepest needs.
There are also a few things we would like to invite you to during Holy Week, the final week of Lent leading up to Easter. We look forward to worshiping through this season together!
Epiphany and the season after Epiphany
Every year, on January 6, the church remembers and celebrates the day when the Magi (wise men) visited Jesus. Depending on the tradition, Epiphanytide, or the Season After Epiphany continues forty days from Christmas and ends when Jesus was presented at the temple (according to Leviticus 12:1–8, Mary would have to be ritually purified after childbirth), or it continues until Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. (More on this in a future email) We will observe the latter.
The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearance’. For this reason, the Season after Epiphany focuses on the ‘appearances’ or ‘manifestations’ of Jesus not only to the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. As such, it makes perfect sense that this season begins with the visit of the Magi, as they were most certainly Gentiles. In addition to the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus and the miracle where Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana are also commonly associated with the Season after Epiphany, as they are two more central events in Jesus’ life where he ‘manifested’ or revealed who he was to the world. The biblical texts of these three events are often used in the Season after Epiphany.
This particular season of the church calendar is one that resonates with Monte Vista’s heart for world missions, as Epiphany reminds us that the mission of the church is to reach all nations with the gospel. As we enter this season, may the following prayer guide us.
Lord of all Nations
We longed to see your face, to hear your voice
Best sa we could, we kept the faith, and reached out in prayer
But too often, we failed to find you
And then one day, you placed yourself within reach
In the person of a child as vulnerable as any of us
King and peasant beheld you –
Man and woman, slave and free, Jew and gentile
For you had come for all
‘Epiphany’ we call it
The Word made flesh
We have since known other Epiphanies
We have been filled by your Spirit
We have met you in the faces of our brothers
The graces of our sisters
The hand that reaches out
The heart that weeps for others
In the strength of one who protects
In the gentleness of one who forgives
We have seen your face
We have heard your voice.
As broken as we are
As scared and uncertain as at times we may be
May others see something of you in us
May they hear the sound of your voice
May you be revealed through us to all peoples
May epiphanies abound
Be born in us, O Lord.
The Season of Christmastide
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” Most of you are familiar with the first line of The Twelve Days of Christmas, but I wonder if you know that for almost 1500 years, much of the church actually celebrated Christmas for twelve whole days. Beginning in 567 A.D., the church formally set aside the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany (we will learn more about Epiphany in a few weeks!) as a prolonged celebration of the birth of Jesus. This tradition continued through the middle ages and into the modern era. However, for many in the American Church, Christmastide has all but faded away in a blur of post-Christmas shopping, gift returning, and resolution planning.
So then, what IS Christmastide? Great question! Christmastide is the 12 days of celebration that begins midnight on Christmas Eve, which is the beginning of the first day of Christmas. Then, the second day of Christmas is December 26, the third day, December 27, and so on, until all twelve days of Christmas have passed. Some traditions have specific celebrations on the various days of Christmastide, but the main purpose is to prevent the world-altering incarnation of Jesus from being a ‘one-and-done’ holiday. Truth is, something as amazing as God becoming flesh shouldn’t be rushed. Rather it should be savored and celebrated over a long period of time.
That’s what we as a local church are being invited to this Christmastide. Let’s not be done with the incarnation on December 26th. Instead, let’s slow down and marinate in God’s amazing expression of love. Consider keeping your Christmas decorations up for the twelve days of Christmas… or at least some of them! Remind yourself that generosity doesn’t stop at 11:59pm on Christmas night by giving gifts or doing acts of kindness throughout the twelve days of Christmas. Instead of thinking the holiday is over when you return to work or school, develop an ‘incarnational mindset’ in which you remember that your vocation is to bring Jesus into your world in all you do and say.
This year, let’s allow the twelve days of Christmas to hold us in the place of both receiving and giving the overwhelming gift of God’s love.
Christmas Communion at Home
Follow the button below for all of the materials you may need to lead a group through communion together at home during Christmastide. You’ll find a liturgy of scripture, video and music to celebrate and remember Jesus throughout the season!
If you would like to learn more about the church calendar or our “Redeeming Time” series, click on the image above to read a short explanation from Pastor Ken!
It’s Advent… Happy New Year!
If that sounds confusing, CLICK HERE to watch the “What Time Is It” message
Our invitation to you this Advent is to intentionally orient your lives around this opening portion of the story of Jesus. Make a commitment to attend church every Sunday during this season as we remember how our smaller stories are all parts of God’s greater story. Purchase a Seasons Calendar at church and read through the passages we will be reflecting on during our Sunday services. Join us on Sunday, December 17 at 5:00 p.m. as we welcome Christ into our world at our Advent Prayer service. Consider using the family Advent calendar provided to you by our Children’s ministry. Make the coming of Jesus the centerpiece of this season and notice all the ways he will redeem the time.