Deuteronomy 26: 5-10
Roman 10: 8b-13
Luke 4: 1-13
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Last week, on Ash Wednesday, the first hymn we sang was “Out of the Depths I Cry to You.” This morning, the hymn we sang was “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.” And after the sermon, we will sing “A Mighty Fortress.” All three of these songs were written by Martin Luther, in fact there are many songs written by Martin Luther, many of which can be found in our Green Hymnals, a total of twenty. Now were as Luther wrote songs for a myriad of themes and various holidays, there was one theme or season that was dear to his heart. The season in question is Lent.
Even in his other songs that do not focus on this season you may find elements of Lent within them, and thereafter, those who followed after Luther and followed in his musical footsteps also did likewise, connecting Lent to various Christian music. It has gotten to the point that in, I would dare say most, legitimate Christian music there is an undertone of the Lenten season. Though some composers are a little more brazen with their Lenten emphasis, for example, again, Martin Luther.
So why the brazen zeal for Lent? Why Did Martin Luther put so many blatant Lenten themes in his songs and even wrote many intentionally Lenten pieces of music? Is it because Lent was Luther’s favorite church season? No because Luther’s favorite season of the church was most likely Christmas, just look at all the traditions that Luther started which includes the Christmas/Advent Wreath, garland, the Christmas Tree, presents on Christmas morning, St Nicholas as Santa Claus, etc. So why the zeal?
It is because the Lutheran faith is Cross centric confessional faith. Our theology is known as the Theology of the Cross. In other words, the absolute core of our faith as Lutherans is the cross.
All things come from the cross and are connected to the cross; all things that are biblical and theological points towards the cross; all things are subject to the cross. Every element of our faith rests at the feet of the cross, for it is through the cross alone that we are saved. Our Salvation comes not from the ascending Lord, nor the Christmas birth, nor the resurrection, but from the cross that our Lord and Savior suffered, bleed, and died on so that way he may put to death sin. On the cross he became the sacrifice for all sin and took on the sins of all who repent. It is through the cross that Jesus fulfilled his ultimate mission, to come to the world not to condemn the world, for it was already condemned, but to save it.
The Cross is the absolute centerpiece of our faith, and as such of all the seasons the most Lutheran is Lent. For it is during the season of Lent that our eyes are turned primarily towards the cross. Lent is like a parade march with Golgotha as the destination. It is a season when we reflect on our own wickedness, acknowledge our own sins, confess that we are sinners in desperate need of the saving grace that comes from the cross alone and pray with contrite hearts filled with despair in our own decrepit state but with also hope for God saves us despite such. We are taking the long painful depressing march to Golgotha throughout this entire season, and when we reach the climax on that hill what do we see, but three crosses.
The height of Lent is Good Friday, the event when Jesus did die to save all of mankind. Good Friday is the core of the church calendar, at least from a Lutheran perspective. It is the most important holiday. For our theology is not The Theology of Glory, that’s the Roman Catholic Church’s theology which has Easter as its centerpiece. Nor is our theology The Theology of Jesus’ Coming; that is a theology that has Revelation as its centerpiece. Our theology is not The Theology of Pentecost, that’s the Pentecostal and such theology that has the touching of the Holy Spirit as its centerpiece. Our theology is, I repeat is, The Theology of the Cross, which has Jesus suffering on the cross, Good Friday, as our centerpiece.
So even if it isn’t Lent, because the core of the Lutheran faith is Lenten in nature, elements of Lent may be present, not just in music but also in sermons and service. Elements of Lent include confession and forgiveness, when we confess that we are wholly incapable of saving ourselves. It also includes any mention of the cross, the Lord Supper, and the Lord’s Prayer. When communion is given we say, “The Body of Christ, given for you,” and, “The Blood of Christ, shed for you.” Given… shed… both are references to the cross where the Sacrificial Lamb bleed and died for the sins of all.
There are many Lenten themes that us Lutherans interject into all aspects of our faith, to include above all else Faith alone. For if we are saved through the cross alone then that means by no part are we included in our own salvation, thus there is no merit but simply faith alone. Salvation is in the hands of Christ 100%, and all we can do is believe in his promise of salvation through the cross. But it’s one thing to just merely have faith in one’s heart. Because our theology and thus everything worship related places the cross firmly in the center, we don’t just merely believe in our hearts that Jesus saves us, but we boldly confess with our lips that Jesus Christ did come into the world, did die on that terrible cross, and was raised from the dead to save us.
It feels almost as if people these days are terrified of the cross. To some the cross has become the Law thinking that it punishes rather than saves. Such people only want to feel bliss and pleasure, not understanding were true happiness is found. Such people want to hide their sins, believing that if they don’t see darkness then there must not be any darkness, not understanding that the whole point of darkness is to prevent you from seeing. Salvation becomes a curse because salvation is only for sinners and some are too weak and terrified to acknowledge their own sins. So when their eyes look upon the cross, they run away. People don’t want to feel bad; they only want to feel good. And people’s fear of the bad and gluttonous overindulgence of things that feel good, have led the majority of Christians down a dangerous path of self-gratification and the protection of sinful actions.
A personification of this becomes present when people avoid Good Friday because it’s too depressing and dreary and dark, all while rushing to go to Easter because it is happy and grandioso and fun and amazing and feels filled with uplifting joy. To avoid Good Friday but go to Easter is a cultural phenomenon that encourages vain glory, envy, greed, and above all else gluttony, not for food but gluttony for pleasure.
As we look towards the cross this year, let us not fall victim to the snares of the Devil which is pumping gluttonous pleasure-seeking into the clogged veins of America, but instead confess our faith found in the words of the Nicene Creed. Confess aloud, as the second lesson suggests, that Jesus is Lord and that the Father did raise him from the dead. Confess that Christ did indeed, “For our sake… was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” Confess our sins in accordance with scripture. Confess that we are indeed sinners who do not deserve heaven. Confess that we are in desperate need of a savior. Confess that we cannot do any of this by ourselves. Confess that Jesus died on the Cross to save us repenters.
We are Confessional Christians, that is what it means to be a Lutheran. We know what we are. We are Sinners. We are wretched rags. We are worms. We are servants who merely do what we ought to do but failing at each task. We confess that we are weak, but that He is Strong. We may be sinners, but our savior is sinless. We may be wretched rags, but our savior is pure. We may be worms, but our Savior is the King of Kings. We are sinners, but our Savior Jesus Christ died for us anyways and through him who knew no sin we are indeed saved.
There is no salvation without sinners. There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without death. There is no grace without sin and Hell. So if we wish to reap the rewards of the resurrection we must first look towards the cross. If we wish to seek heaven, we must first acknowledge our sinfulness. So we have Lent.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, let the lips of our mouths confess your name and all your works which you have done for us lowly servants, believing in all of your promises fulfilled through the cross. In your name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.