“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2 ESV)
There is a certain irony that the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting churches in the heart of Lent. For a broad swath of Christianity, Lent is a season of sacrifice. I think the Lutheran Christian understanding of Lent can help Christians deal with the changes forced by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
One foundation of Lutheran Christian teaching is personal sacrifices earns nothing from God. Our sacrifices do not engender God’s favor. Our sacrifices do not earn forgiveness of our sins. Our sacrifices do not give us some higher stature with God.
The only sacrifice that truly matters is Jesus sacrifice. In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, ultimately dying as the sacrifice for those sins. In His resurrection from the dead, Jesus proved the sacrifice had earned forgiveness of sins for the world.
Thus, our sacrifices are a response to Jesus’ gracious sacrifice. In Lent, we willingly sacrifice something we enjoy or value. That is what is different this Lent. We are being compelled to make sacrifices by COVID-19, compelled to make sacrifices we didn’t want to make.
Most Christians are sacrificing meeting in person for worship. Almost all of us are sacrificing gathering for Bible classes or fellowship gatherings. Many are sacrificing receiving the Lord’s Supper.
When we are compelled to make sacrifices, there is always a risk of becoming resentful. For that reason, it was important for remember Paul encouraged us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Even if we are compelled by civil authorities to not gather in person, we can still do so out of love for fellow church members and our community.
As such, my prayer each day last week those I serve was this: Lord, make love for fellow church members and our communities our motivation for sacrificing gathering in person.
The Apostle John summarizes well why are making these sacrifices. In the fourth chapter of his first epistle, John writes:
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
During this season of Lent, we are extending that love to fellow church members and our communities by not gathering together.
The Lord bless you and keep you, even as we await the day when we can gather together around God’s Word again in person.