The last Sunday in Lent marks the beginning of Holy Week. It is known by two names—Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday—and has a double theme. The joyful mood of the day is tempered by our realization of what lay in store for the Savior later in the week. The day appropriately begins in shouts of joy, but ends in silence.
The focus of the first portion of the Lenten season is on God's mercy toward us and our response to it. Thus we are pointed to our frequent failures and need for pardon. With the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the focus shifts to God's grace in Christ, and his willing suffering to cover our sins. The older liturgies refer to this final two week portion of Lent as ‘Passiontide.’
The hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is called the Battle Hymn of the Reformation. Written by Martin Luther, it has been called “the greatest hymn of the greatest man in the greatest period of Germany history.” By 1900 it had been translated into 53 languages, and a recent estimate counts that number at over 200 languages.
The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent focus on God’s deliverance from death through unexpected means—through a bronze snake on a pole, by grace through faith, and through the crucifixion of Jesus. God has saved us so that we can serve both him and our neighbor.
The season of Lent is a time of repentance and a time of discipline. You may choose a Lenten discipline such as abstaining from a particular food, giving more resources to the poor, or spending extra time in prayer and Scripture. All of these are noble pursuits that perhaps find their roots in Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Lent is the season of preparation for Easter. The purpose of Lent is not to dwell on the sufferings of our Savior, but rather to prepare ourselves for a celebration of his resurrection. Lent is a time for repentance and prayer and for renewal of our Baptisms.
The hymn "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star" (hymn #167 in our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary) is one of the monuments of Lutheran hymns and is called the Queen of Chorales. It was used so extensively at weddings, that the idea really became common that if this hymn were not sung at the wedding, the persons were not properly married.
After confessing our sins and receiving assurance of our forgiveness, the Rite II liturgy in our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary continues with the Introit, the Kyrie Eleison, and the Gloria in Excelsis. In these steps we enter in to the presence of the Lord for worship, ask for his help in earthly needs, and praise him with the song of the angels.
Epiphany is the second oldest festival of the Christian church year. Only the Easter season is older. The Festival of Epiphany is always January 6th and marks the start of the next church year season (thus the 12 days of the Christmas season end on 1/5). Yet the Epiphany season is an extension of the Christmas season.
For some of us, the Holy Spirit has been a bit of a background character to the Father and the Son in church. During December, our small Bible study groups thought more deeply about the Holy Spirit and his work. We explored the biblical language, the activities of the Spirit, and how those activities happen in our lives today.
There is a wide gulf between God in his holiness and us in our sinfulness. We put on clean clothes in the morning to come to church, but more importantly we need a clean heart in the presence of the Lord. So at the very beginning of our worship services, we need to lay our sins on Jesus and be assured that God does not condemn us for our sins, but forgives and forgets. We need to “lay down our burdens at the doorway before entering upon the praises of God.”
The Advent Wreath is more than a pretty decoration. It is a trigger during the four weeks of the Advent season to turn our thoughts and heart toward Jesus.
Many different meanings have been given to the four candles and the other parts of the wreath. None are right or wrong. Here is one common interpretation of the meaning of the various parts of the Advent wreath.