The Center for Faith & Culture—Olivet Nazarene University

Lenten Season



February 13 is Ash Wednesday, which begins the liturgical season of Lent, traditionally a time when we Christians, in preparation for the celebration of Easter, examine our hearts and reflect on Jesus’ suffering in our behalf. One of our most cherished ways of calling to mind Jesus’ work on the cross is the sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. It seems fitting here, then, to consider a few Scripture passages that relate to the Lord’s Supper and ask what they teach us about the meaning of Jesus’ death and the meaning of the sacrament itself.

In Mark 14:24, as Jesus and his disciples eat the Passover meal, Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many.”1 The phrase “blood of the covenant” calls to mind the establishment of the covenant between the LORD and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:4-8. In that passage, Moses wets the people with the blood of oxen that have been offered to the LORD and says, “See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you . . . ” (v. 8).The idea of establishing a covenant takes us back to a time even earlier in the history of the people of Israel, the time of Abraham. In Genesis 15, Abraham, at the LORD’s command, brings to the LORD a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon. He cuts the heifer, the goat, and the ram in half, lays the halves opposite each other, and waits. Around sunset, Abraham falls into a deep sleep, and a “deep and terrifying darkness” (v. 12) comes over him. As Abraham sleeps, “a smoking firepot and a flaming torch” (v. 17), symbolizing the presence of the LORD, pass between the halves of the animals.” The LORD says to Abraham, “To your descendants I give this land . . . ” (v. 18). In Abraham’s world, the Ancient Near East, the parties to a covenant typically passed between the pieces of slaughtered animals and said something like, “May the gods do to me what has been done to these animals if I ever violate this covenant.” By passing between the pieces of the animals, the LORD Himself takes this oath of self-curse, pledging to remain faithful to Abraham and his descendants. To say that the blood of Jesus is the blood of the covenant, then, is to say that his death establishes a covenant relationship between God and human beings. The Lord’s Supper calls us to remember both our status as God’s covenant people and the great price at which that status was bought for us.

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Culture Responding to the Church?

The news reporter on the evening news made a thought provoking statement that sounded strange to my ears.  I perked up a bit as I listened more closely to the news item.  I’ve been thinking about it all day today.  Here’s the line.  Give it some thought along with me.

“Tonight is the last night of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  So we have to live it up all night tonight, because we’re going to have to start our fast for Lent in the morning.”

Really?  Is this guy serious?  A whole series of questions hit my mind all at once as I pondered that statement about Mardi Gras.  I knew the word literally meant “Fat Tuesday.”  I knew the event started as a celebration that takes place in the days prior to the Christian calendar’s Wednesday which begins the Lenten season.  I knew the purpose of Lent was to prepare our hearts for the Easter season.  So, with that in mind, what do I do with all of the questions rolling around in my mind from the news story on Mardi Gras?

1.    Is secular culture really taking its cue from the Christian calendar?
2.    Does our culture sense a need to party excessively prior to a most sacred time of heart searching leading up to Easter?
3.    Does preparation for Lent grant a license for an entire night of wild parades, liquor consumption, partying, and immoral activity that marks this Tuesday evening?
4.    Will these same people who live-it-up all night during Mardi Gras also be fasting and preparing their hearts for Lent as the news reporter implied?
5.    How do we compartmentalize our lives so completely between a bacchanalian Mardi Gras Tuesday night and a worshipful Lenten Wednesday evening service just 12 hours later?

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