A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING (SIXTEENTH IN A SERIES)
I recently saw a social media post in which a Christian from a Reformed church disparaged Lutherans for observing what he disdainfully referred to as “forty days of Lent and only one day of Easter.” Perhaps his opinion was influenced by those unfaithful, “pop psychology,” itching-ears-appeasing preachers who avoid proclaiming any Bible truths that they consider to be “negative”; or maybe he was merely engaging in a smug variety of Reformed chauvinism. Ultimately, though, his criticism really amounts to scorning the sacrifice made by the Son of God to win our salvation.
Sometimes, the true value of a gift can best be understood by knowing not only its intrinsic worth, but also what the giver did in order to give that gift. Back in the 1940’s, a ten-year-old boy went by himself to an ice cream shop. He found a place at the counter, and eventually a harried-looking waitress asked him what he wanted. “How much does a single-scoop chocolate fudge sundae cost?” he asked. “Fifty cents” she said. The boy’s disappointment was apparent. “What about just a single scoop of plain vanilla ice cream?” The waitress, already impatient, brusquely answered, “Thirty cents. Do you want it or not? I’m busy.” “Yes, please,” he answered.
The boy quietly ate his ice cream and left his money on the counter. When the waitress saw it, she began to cry. He had left two quarters, and she realized that even though she had treated the boy gruffly, he had chosen not to get the sundae because he wanted to be able to leave her a tip. That twenty-cent tip wasn’t the largest one she received that day, but it was certainly the one that meant the most to her, because she knew of the sacrifice behind it.
If the worth of that “small” gift was properly appreciated only when the waitress knew what the boy gave up in order to give it, how much more will our gratitude be when the gift itself is of infinite intrinsic worth, and the giver had to suffer torture and death in order to give it? That’s what the season of Lent is about. That’s why Lutherans observe it.
Hymn 140 in The Lutheran Hymnal movingly expresses why we observe Lent. By meditating on what our Savior endured to accomplish our salvation, we gain a greater understanding of and thankfulness for God’s astounding gift to us. “Grant that I in love and faith/ May the image cherish/ Of
Thy suff’ring, pain, and death/ That I may not perish.” (Verse 1)
Verse 2 continues that theme, and adds the shocking truth that this “great distress/ Anguish and affliction, /Bonds and stripes and wretchedness/ And Thy crucifixion” —this suffering and death of the Son of God was all willingly done—not for deserving friends, but actually “for man Thou diedst, O God, Who with thorns had crowned Thee.” Is this not a wonder, and something well deserving our devout meditation?
Verse 3 expands the thought. The Passion of Christ that is our focus during Lent is to be understood not only according to its severity, but also in the context of its purpose: “Ah! I also and my sin/ Wrought Thy deep affliction;/ This indeed the cause hath been/ Of Thy crucifixion.” I am what caused the Son of God to suffer so. It was my sins that led to His suffering and death. This is not some abstract proposition in a book of philosophy, this is the Son of God sacrificing Himself for unworthy me.
Contrary to how it’s portrayed by those who do not understand it, Lent is not a season of “gloom and doom.” The Passion of Christ that is our focus at this time of year is also the assurance of our forgiveness. “If my sins give me alarm/ And my conscience grieve me,/ Let Thy cross my fear disarm,/ Peace of conscience give me.” It is a proof: “If His son so loveth me,/ God must have compassion.” (Verse 5)
So then, what about that Reformed Christian I mentioned at the beginning of this article? I pray that he, and those who hold his opinion, would consider this hymn and its significance. Certainly, then, their appreciation of God’s love and grace would be increased. Maybe they would even begin to think like Lutherans.
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.