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Things We Do During Lent:Omit Alleluias

During the season of Lent there always seems to be something missing during worship.  Even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.  Well, let me tell you, it is the Alleluias. But, why?

It would probably be best to know why we sing Alleluia to begin with.  Alleluia, also spelled Hallelujah, simply means “Praise the LORD!” (or literally “Praise YHWH”).  It is an exclamation of praise to our God. 

The phrase is found throughout the Psalms (pretty much anywhere you see “Praise the LORD” it is the word “hallelujah”. 

In the Divine Service we typically sing or say together the ‘Alleluia’ in expectation of the hearing of the Gospel of our Lord.  We are about to hear the words concerning the life of our Lord and Savior.  We will hear His words or the deeds that He has done. So, in anticipation of being able to hear something so wonderful, we stand up and we sing “Praise the LORD” that is, “Alleluia!”

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So, why do we remove it during Lent?  We remove it, simply, so we can say it again.  I know, that probably doesn’t make much sense, so let me explain.

We remove the alleluia during Lent because we focus on our sin, our mortality, and our need for help. 

In a sense, our eyes are no longer being turned upward to God, but inward.  Not inward to our pride, but to our sinfulness.

Lent is a time of repentance, discipline, and humility.  It is a time of self introspection, Christian devotion, and penitence.  It drives us to look into our own sin sick hearts. 

In all of this we find nothing praiseworthy.   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer. 17:9).

Because, of this, we divert our eyes from our God. 

We confess with St. John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

We weep with King David: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.   Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and 

We stand like Isaiah before our Holy God, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6:5).

The things that come from our lips, then, are not praises, but words of repentance.

So, in Lent, we remove the alleluias.  We stop singing them and saying them.  They are removed from our liturgy and from our hymnody.

So, we remove the alleluias, to focus on our sin, our repentance, our sin sick hearts, our need for a Savior.  And we do this, so that, at Easter, when we celebrate the work of our Savior, who has heard our cries for help and repentance, and who laid down His life to pay our ransom, we can say them again.

At Easter, the alleluias will return.  This we know. And, it is this that helps to build the glorious anticipation of shouting and singing on Easter morning, “Alleluia!  He is risen. He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!”

Just like Christ, the Alleluia’s will return.

 

 

Things We Do During Lent:  Incense

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While many Christian churches make use of incense all year round, it has not been a common thing here at First Lutheran.  However, incense was introduced a few years ago and has been used during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  But, why?

First, it is biblical.  A quick search in Bible software gives 96 references to incense.  Most of these are in reference to the use of incense in worship, or incense as an offering (for use in worship), beginning in the book of Exodus, where Moses receives instructions from God on how to build the Tabernacle, Ark of the Covenant, the clothing for the priests and the items to be used in worship. 

In fact, Moses was instructed by God, to build an altar just for the burning of incense outside of the Holy of Holies. 

Second, it is interactive and symbolic. Christianity is a religion of the senses.  God created us, and He interacts with us through His creation.  He has always used His creation, to minister to His creation. As Luther wrote, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (First Article of the Apostles Creed, Small Catechism).  And, since God interacts with us through our senses, we make use of our senses in worship. We hear God’s Word (spoken, sung, chanted…)  We see depictions of biblical events and symbols.  We taste the bread and the wine.  We feel the water in baptism.  We smell the incense. 

Scripture notes that God’s presence filled  the Tabernacle and Temple with smoke.  The smoke of incense is a way of representing, visually, the presence of God in His house. 

The ascending of the smoke also represents the rising of our prayers to God, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Ps. 141:2).  This verse is used in the service of Evening Prayer (LSB, 243), Vespers (LSB, 229), and Daily Prayer-Early Evening (LSB, 297). Since, that verse is used in both our Advent and Lenten services (Evening Prayer and Vespers), it seemed a natural fit for the use of incense in our worship during those seasons.  Other references to incense being attached to prayer (Rev. 5:8, 8:3, 8:4). 

Objections to Incense:

It’s Catholic.  Yes, it is. But, not Roman Catholic.  It belongs to the Church catholic (meaning: universal).  As already mentioned, it come from Scripture, not Rome.  The Roman Catholics use it, the Greek Orthodox use it, the Coptic Churches use it, and so do Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and others.  Its use belongs to God and His Church.  He instituted, we use it.

It makes me cough.  The smoke can tickle the nose, throat, etc. causing a cough.  But, the incense we use is pure frankincense and has been in worship for millennia without adverse affects.  In fact, we get ours from an Orthodox ministry, that was recommended by a Lutheran pastor.  The frankincense comes from Somalia where the Coptics have sourced their incense for worship for centuries, perhaps even millennia. 

Also, frankincense is a natural anti-inflammatory (boswellic acid).  Therefore, it does not inflame the lining of lungs as other smokes can do.

The ancient Israelites, Jesus and the Apostles, the ancient church fathers and others up through the Reformation would have experienced incense in worship.  What a wonderful, meaningful, biblical addition to our Lenten and Advent worship!

Things We Do During Lent: Forty Days

Almost everyone knows that Lent is forty days.  But, why forty days?  Now there’s a question.  And it requires a multi faceted answer.

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On one hand, it is, actually, really simple. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days.  Lent almost always begins with that reading from the Gospel assigned for that particular year (Matthew, Mark, or Luke).  So, forty days of temptation of our Lord equals forty days of repentance for us. That’s simple enough, and we could stop there.  But, in truth, that is only one, and probably the most obvious, facet.

Here’s another; Jesus temptation isn’t the only place in Scripture that the number 40 shows up.  In fact, the number shows up some 159 times. 

Remember Noah and the flood?  Once God loaded the ark with all the animals and Noah’s family, He sealed the doors. Then, it rained for… you guessed it, forty days and forty nights as all earthbound life was extinguished.  Why would God do such a cruel thing?  Well, in short, it was because humanity was doing much worse things to each other.  Each person was out for themselves and did not care about loving their neighbor.  God saw this evil, and God knew it needed to stop.  God rescued Noah and his family from that evil, and used them to start life on earth once again.

Later, God would also rescue His people from slavery in Egypt.  God would secure the rescue by brining plagues on Egypt. But, it was ultimately the last plague, the plague of the firstborn, that sealed the deal.  With that plague, Pharaoh finally relented and allowed Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt.  But, not without first taking it back and seeking revenge on the people of God. After escaping Pharaoh and his vanquished wrath, the Hebrew people begin their trek through the wilderness to the Holy Land.  However, do to their disobedience, God, again, brought judgment on them.  What should have been a trek of about a month and a half, God made the wander for… forty years!

So, when you think about it, forty is a good number for a season of repentance; as we reflect on our temptations, our sin sick hearts, and our rebellion and disobedience toward our God.

That is the Biblical answer for the forty days of repentance, fasting and prayer.  But, there are also more practical reasons.

One of which was catechesis.  The faithful of the first few centuries of the church would spend three years learning the faith from a teacher.  The church would inquire about the catechumens (students) from their families, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to see if they were of good character and were truly devout in their belief.  These were called “The Scrutinies” and were something of an early background check.

The days leading up to Easter, when they would receive communion for the first time, was a time of deep repentance, study, fasting, and prayer.

On the Easter Vigil, the evening before Easter Sunday, they would be baptized. Then, on Easter morning, they would, for the first time, be allowed into the part of the worship service where the Lord’s Supper was served.  No one was allowed into that part of the service except for those who had gone through that preparation.  This is where we get the term ‘closed’ communion.  It was truly closed.

This season of preparation, then, has become what we now know as the forty days of Lent.  It is a time of preparation of, not just the catechumen who is to be baptized, but for all believers to reexamine themselves, their need for a Savior, to resist temptation, etc.

Those forty days, like with the early Christians, are meant to prepare us for the mercy, grace, glory, and love of the gospel that bursts forth from the darkness and gloom of the tomb of our fasting and grief on Easter morning.  It is meant to point us away from ourselves and to the saving work of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory!

Things We Do During Lent: Fasting

Fasting, now here’s a controversial topic.  Due to different den

ominations, cults, books, etc., fasting has become somewhat confusing and muddled.  So, what do you say we clear it up a bit?

Fasting is a common discipline during Lent.  It has fallen off among Lutherans, but there are still some who follow this custom and discipline.

First, what is fasting?  Fasting is refraining from eating food.  That’s it. 

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Including other things under the word ‘fast’ has caused some confusion regarding that word. You cannot fast from social media, television, or anything else; just food.  You can abstain or refrain from those things, but fasting has to do with food. 

This isn’t to say that refraining from social media, television, alcohol, or other things is not good discipline.  But, we just don’t call it fasting.

Now that we know what fasting is, why do we do it?

To begin with, fasting is mentioned throughout the Bible.  It is often connected with mourning, repentance, and grief.

King David fasted when his child by Bathsheba was ill and had been demanded from him by the Lord.  David wept, fasted, and moped about in great anguish (2 Sam. 12:15ff).

The people of Nineveh fasted when the prophet Jonah preached God’s destruction on them and their city if they did not repent (Jonah 3:6-10).

 A key thing to remember is this, fasting is not done to sway God or to gain His favor. Fasting is a personal, spiritual discipline.

When we fast, and our bellies grumble, we can say to them, “You are not my god.  I serve the Lord.”  This, in essence, is what Jesus said in the wilderness when He had fasted for forty days. They devil came to Him and tempted Him to turn stones into bread so He could eat.  But, Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Lk. 4:4b; Mt. 4:4; Dt. 8:3).

Fasting is a way of denying self and following Christ. 

But, why do we do it during Lent?

Fasting can be done, as we mentioned, anytime.  Times of great sorry, spiritual turmoil, emotional agony, increased guilt over sin are all times that fasting is good, right and salutary.

Lent, however, as a time set aside by the church for repentance, introspection, turning from our sin and idols and returning to God, is a very beneficial time to adopt this ancient discipline of the body, mind, and spirit.

Fasting reminds us of our mortality.  No food, no life.  It drives us to look to our God and thank Him for what He has given us, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

It reminds us that we are not connected to the things of this world only. By not eating, we remove one of those, very vital, connections.

Fasts end.  Every morning when we wake, we have gone a long period without eating, so we sit down at the table for break-fast. Some Christians will not eat on Sunday morning, only to break their fast with the very body and blood of Christ at the Lord’s Supper.

That is a very meaningful and personal way, during Lent or throughout the year, to bring together Lent and Easter every Sunday.  Since, at Easter, our Lenten fast is broken.  Our time of sorrow is turned to joy.  Our lament is turned to songs of praise.  Our shame is turned to glory.  Our sin to forgiveness. 

At Easter, we no longer fast.  Instead, we feast.  Our Lord is victorious!  He is risen. He is risen, indeed!  Allel… …Ok, not yet.  Not until Easter.  Hang in there.

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