“Of Chocolate, Raisins and Lent”

“Of Chocolate, Raisins and Lent”
Isaiah 61:4-11
I was sitting in my office the other day looking at the email I had received from our bulletin secretary that was reminding me that another article for the newsletter was soon due. I looked at my calendar to check out the accuracy of this reminder and sure enough, she had it right. The date for submission was already here and if I didn’t hurry up, there would be no article from the pastor this month! So I told myself, “Get busy now and get one written.” The problem was that I had no idea of what to write about. Then I was reminded that the end of the season of Lent was also fast coming to an end. Palm Sunday was this Sunday, Good Friday was this week and Easter was only a week away. My how time does fly!!!
The time of Lent does not always fly by for some of us because Lent has become a season of self-denial. The emphasis of Lent becomes ‘giving something up’ for Lent and that can be absolutely miserable especially if we are denying ourselves something we really like. It can be even worse when someone other than ourselves makes this decision for us. Perhaps the little children of our congregation can serve as an illustration for us.
A couple of weeks ago when I had the children’s moment I concluded our special time together (and I do love this time with the children) by offering each of the children a box of raisins from my “goodie basket.”  The offer was not met with much enthusiasm. In fact none of the children took a single box of raisins. “I don’t like raisins.” I was told.
Last week I once again had the pleasure of bringing the children’s moment. I was excited to show the children a little craft I had made that was a do it yourself scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a cool project for each of the children. However, when I informed them that they would each get their own little project instead of getting chocolate, they were really disappointed. “I really wanted chocolate.” I was told and child after child dejectedly made their way back to their seats, more than less excited to make the picture for themselves!
Someone made the suggestion that I was ‘forcing’ the children to give up chocolate for Lent. I chuckled at that one but I can understand how the gift of ‘raisins and craft projects’ pale in comparison to a mouthwatering nugget of chocolate!!!
I thought to myself later that maybe this is how some of us look at Lent too. We are busy remembering and thinking seriously about the manner in which Jesus suffered and died during this season and have forgotten to look to the long range reality of what was accomplished in Lent, Good Friday and Easter.
That is when I thought about Isaiah 61. This passage is entitled “The Year of the Lord’s Favor” in most of our Bibles, which is something that the Old Testament prophet Isaiah brings to God’s people as a prophecy about the coming of the long promised Messiah.  In fact it is opening words of this prophecy which Jesus quoted in Luke 4:18 as he officially begins his earthly ministry. He uses these words to announce to the nation that the Messiah has come by concluding “This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Isaiah 61:4-7 told those who first heard it that here was a promise of a grand exchange. When the Messiah comes there were going to be changes that would bring restoration and renewal to their lives… ancient ruins would be rebuilt, ruined cities restored and estranged relationship would be resolved. Not only these things but the people of God would receive new designation. No longer would they be denied access to God through the designation of some being priests while others were limited in their access to God. Verse 6 says…”And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God.”
In this passage from Isaiah 61:8-9 there is also a promise that because of who God is, he will always keep his promises. God is a God who loves justice; he is one who hates what is evil. Therefore because of his faithfulness to his covenant promises he will renew that covenant with his chosen people and as a result others will take note and will testify that God’s people are blessed by the Lord.
The best promise is yet to come. Isaiah 61:10-11 says that salvation will come to God’s people. This salvation will be like the adornment of wedding clothes…a turban like that of the priest, jewels like those worn by a bride. These clothes are representative of the joy the bride and groom have in each other on the day of their wedding. The difference here is that the clothes that are promised by God are garments of righteousness.
As we contemplate the season of Lent coming to a close we remember that the robes of righteousness of which the prophet speaks are the robes we receive only because of Jesus’ righteousness. It is striking to me that when Isaiah is describing this whole process he uses terminology from agriculture, a garden making seeds grow. So I am reminded that Jesus, through whom we receive our righteousness, was also in a garden where he wrestled with his Father over the suffering of his final hours on earth. By remaining faithful, Jesus remained righteous and his righteousness has now become our own by faith in Jesus.
Isaiah 61:10 says in response to the promises of God…”I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.”  This, my dear friends is where we need to focus when it comes to the season of Lent. Yes we remember the suffering of our Lord but in the darkness of these solemn memories we should never forget that the season of Lent is also about great joy because God remembers his promises, especially those concerning our salvation from our sins.
I’m convinced that the Apostle Peter had this in mind when he wrote in 1 Peter 2:9.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
So people of God, be joyful even in the intense hours of Lenten memories of our Lord’s suffering. And lest I forget…children, be joyful too because the joy of chocolate will return to the ‘children’s moment.’
Pastor Jerry